The League of Women Voters of Collier County hosted the five candidates running for Naples City Council on Thursday night for a virtual forum.
The candidates, three of whom will win seats following the Feb. 1 at-large nonpartisan election, spoke on a variety of topics including water quality, city staff retention and affordable housing.
Incumbents, Councilman Ray Christman and Vice Mayor Terry Hutchison, tuned in alongside newcomers John Dugan, Beth Petrunoff and Ian Rudnick.
Elections in Naples are held on the first Tuesday in February during each even-numbered year except in years that are multiples of four.
During those years, the municipal election is held on the same day as Florida’s presidential primary, according to the Naples city charter.
Mail-in ballots can be dropped off at the Collier County Supervisor of Elections office on Enterprise Avenue or its satellite office on Orange Blossom Drive, as well as the Cambier Park Norris Center on Eighth Avenue South.
In-person early voting runs Jan. 26 to Jan. 29 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Cambier Park Norris Center and the Supervisor of Elections office.
Here's an overview of what candidates had to say:
Christman: "There's two aspects to this. One is what council and city can do short term and immediately, and the second, it's what we could do in terms of long-range planning. We are already taking a number of steps that are incredibly important around stormwater management."
Dugan: "First we have to clean up the existing infrastructure. We're going to have to do something eventually about beach resiliency. The city's going to have to lead on that. Clean water is absolutely a number one priority and the first thing we need to do is do some root cause analysis and time-series capturing of where the pollutants are coming from in the wells."
Hutchison: "First we must complete removal of the beach outfall pipes and provide the best alternative. Council's taking the time to improve this project and spend money to get the best result. We should work with county, state and federal partners on strong water quality initiatives, which will protect the city. We've also adopted the strongest stormwater codes in the state."
Petrunoff: "Current council, I think, has made great progress on getting the clean water initiative started, I want to help make it even better. Currently we have the 21 lakes that haven't been cleaned in 30-40 years. One of them has been cleaned. There is a 10-year capital expense plan for clean up. Three are actually in process, and we need to finish the rest of them."
Rudnick: "We need partners in clean water. State, local county and federal — these are partners we need to clean water, and I think we all know that. We also need strong leadership to see these projects through. If we have a director of a department who spearheads a project, we need to make sure that person feels appreciated and know they can see it through."
City staff retention
Christman: "We have an outstanding team of people running the city, and have had that for many years. The main two ways in which you attract and retain people are one, to fairly compensate those individuals and have salary scale and schedule that is competitive with other communities. And number two, have a culture that makes people want to come to work and stay in this city and be able to be part of the community."
Dugan: "People know that I've put out a service model that describes how the different organizations fit together. The second thing that we need to do is understand the expectation for each person and make sure that's documented in their role definition. The third thing we need to do is give them regular feedback: direct, encouraging and constructive."
Hutchison: "In an organization with over 550 employees, turnover related to retirements, career path advancements, et cetera, are within reason. We saw a 15% reduction in open positions just last month. A new city manager that we hire will be responsible for filling these primary staff positions. This individual will be a natural leader, attracting new senior staff, assuming greater accountability and using these strengths to streamline city council agenda."
Petrunoff: "I would like to start with hiring a great city manager because the city manager is responsible for hiring everyone else in the organization. This person needs to be a very strong leader and really acts as the umbilical cord between staff and city council. Everything else flows from that. On the police side, I have a four-point plan that will address compensation, retention and recruitment."
Rudnick: "As a 17-year veteran of the Naples Police Department, I understand what it's like to be a city employee. A lot of the things you're hearing today, they simply won't work in public service. Repealing union rules from the Fraternal Order of Police is not what police officers want to hear. Salary is not the only thing that police officers and firefighters look for. City employees look for and they need a career path and a culture."
Christman: "Only 6% of (Naples workers) live in the city of Naples. And believe it or not 30% of those folks don't even live in Collier County. I think that tells the story of affordable housing needs in this city, county and region. We've commissioned an affordable housing study that will be completed in February and will lay out recommendations for how we can increase affordable housing in the city of Naples."
Dugan: "It's my view that we need every price point of housing in the city. There's many positives socially, environmentally, having more affordable housing in the city and it's important to our character and feel. No action has been taken by the city for 30 years. No projects started by the (Community Redevelopment Agency) this year. The budget did not allocate any money to affordable housing."
Hutchison: "We had already identified affordable housing as an issue that is very important to our community. We expect a report to be delivered by subject matter experts, people the city has hired on this specific topic. We will have a clearer understanding of the obstacles and the options available to us when addressing affordable housing. I have ideas which include collaboration with community groups such as Habitat (for Humanity) to bridge the gap."
Petrunoff: "The issue is that the average home in the city exceeds $1 million. This makes living in Naples unaffordable for most of our workforce. It's worse than Naples, but the issue is not unique. ... Because of the scarcity of land in Naples, I think the solution will likely end up in the county."
Rudnick: "When you have a new officer who's living in Cape Coral or North Fort Myers and they have to commute to the city of Naples to work a midnight shift and then drive all the way back home to their young family with a newborn child it's unacceptable. We must work with Collier County leadership, not against them, to make sure we identify affordable housing for our city staff."
Karl Schneider is a Naples Daily News reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: League of Women Voters hosts Naples City Council candidates