OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County Commissioner Kelly Owens and challenger Jack Boon were among the participants in the virtual forum sponsored by Okeechobee County Farm Bureau, Okeechobee County Republican Party, Okeechobee County Democratic Party and the Economic Council of Okeechobee on July 16.
Both were asked about the use of social media by elected officials.
“I’m a firm believer in social media,” said Boon. “It’s a great way to get information out. As an elected official, it is important to maintain your character. We should be held to a higher standard. It is important not to insult or to disrespect anybody. Everybody has an opinion. Everybody deserves that opinion. When you violate that trust … there is nothing in place to do much with that.” He said officials who violate that trust can be held accountable by the voters at the polls.
“It is inappropriate to take on and challenge and belittle the people who are interacting with you online,” said Owens. ”If you are an elected official, you have a responsibility to hold yourself to a higher standard. I do that. I am a reluctant social media follower.
“I use my position to inform the public, and I don’t engage on social media in that manner,” she said.
“Public office is a public trust,” she said. “You must hold yourself to a higher standard.”
The candidates were also asked “What does your plan for improving Okeechobee County include and how much will this cost the taxpayers?”
“My plan for improving is one that we are working on collectively,” explained Owens. “We have the distinct need to attract and bring businesses into the community and we are working toward that.” She said the county help set up and fund the Economic Development Council and has invested in the airport and industrial park.
“We’re managing, through grant funding, to be able improve the community without having it affect the local taxpayers,” she explained. “We have also hired staff who are extremely innovative, who are aggressively buying into and helping us move forward with making this a more attractive community for the people who want to move here, work here and play here and they are also being very aggressive going after grant dollars.”
“We have a lot of individuals in this town who do not have a way to get from the outskirts area to the middle of town, or out to the industrial park, so they can go to work. We have no public transportation system here. That is something that needs to be addressed,” said Boon. “There are many grants available to bring that into play, as well as economic development.
“My plan would be to work with the city council, Okeechobee Main Street and the economic development board to find grant money, and to find ways to bring businesses here to offset the cost of anything along these lines,” he said.
Both candidates agreed the county must continue to crack down on unlicensed contractors.
“You have to be available for the complaints,” said Boon. “As you take complaints you can ensure those complaints are either forwarded to or you advise that person who to contact, either code enforcement or Sheriff Stephen’s office.”
He said it is also important to follow up to make sure action was taken on the complaint.
“We do now have code enforcement officers working on weekends,” said Owens. “That is when these types of activities tend to go on.
“It is very important to make sure we are on top of that,” she said.
When asked about the county’s greatest needs, Owens said “the challenges are lack of businesses and making sure we can expand our tax base. We do have some failing infrastructure that we inherited.
“We are working with a public/private partnership with economic development,” she continued.
“We have very progressive, proactive new staff that we have hired who are doing a great job in pursing grants. That is going to go a long way. We have a federal grant that we have applied for close to $18 million,” she said. The county commission is looking forward to using that funding particularly to help with infrastructure.
“We have a lot of needs,” said Boon. “As a rural community we are faced with a constant economic shortage. We have no way to bring a lot of our youth back here because we don’t offer the types of jobs they want to do. We need to find ways to fix our infrastructure. We need to find ways to bring more jobs here. We have to get a better internet system here.”
He added that “part of the problem is people applying for permits don’t understand all that is involved with it. We need to help them understand what they have to have.”
Owens and Boon will be on the ballot in the August primary. They are both Republicans. Because there are no candidates from other parties in this race, the District 5 primary will be an open primary, allowing all voters to participate. In this race, the primary will decide the election.
Links to the videos from the forum are available on the Lake Okeechobee News page on Facebook.