02 Feb Development is among the issues as six vie for commission seats in Treasure Island
Treasure Island City Hall, where three city commission seats, including one for mayor, are up for grabs in the March 13 election. [Google Maps]
TREASURE ISLAND — With the recent hiring of a new manager and three commission seats up for election, voters will be writing some new history for the city on March 13.
Whether Larry Lunn or Mel Lenehan wins the mayoral race, a new face will lead city government. Mayor Bob Minning is stepping down after nearly a decade in office.
Similarly, the District 2 City Commission seat will be filled by a new face, no matter who wins. Voters will be picking between political newcomers James Buchyn and Tyler Payne.
The only incumbent running for re-election is District 4 Commissioner Ken Keys, who is being challenged by long-time city activist Heidi Horak.
One of the biggest the issues facing city government is how to pay for maintenance of the east causeway and bridge. The city is negotiating with St. Petersburg over possibly sharing the costs and is considering whether to re-institute a toll on the bridge.
Another issue the commission will have little control over is a move in the Legislature to restrict home rule for cities and sharply increase the homestead exemption for homeowners — a prospect that could strain the city’s budget and property tax rate.
And, of course, there is the recurring issue of development. In a referendum last year, city voters again clearly opted for lower height and density projects. Now the commission is faced with sharpening the rules for future construction projects.
These and other issues will be discussed during a debate between the mayoral candidates Tuesday. A debate for commission candidates will be held on Feb. 7. Both events are at 6 p.m. in City Hall.
Here is a look at the candidates:
Mayor: elected citywide to a three-year term; $7,800 salary
Lenehan, 56, moved to Treasure Island from Dallas in 1997. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business and has more than 30 years’ business experience. She is former owner of the Sunset Beach Cafe, owns a Treasure Island apartment complex and is a licensed real estate agent. She is a 17-year member of the Islettes, and is secretary of the city Hotel/Motel Association and the Sunset Beach Civic Association, among other groups. She regularly publishes a personal newsletter for city residents.
Lenehan is seeking her first elective office but has been active for years in city affairs and politics, often speaking at city meetings. She says "money and the future of Treasure Island" are her main issues.
"The citizens of Treasure Island deserve much more than what they are reading in my newsletters," Lenehan says. "Let’s not jeopardize the needs for tomorrow for the ones today. Do not raid our funds for the future."
Lunn, 81, was appointed to the District 2 commission seat in 2016, and was elected unopposed last year to serve the remainder of the term of former commissioner Tim Ramsberger. He is a retired lawyer and former director of the Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Lunn has lived in the city since 2006 and is originally from Indiana. He graduated from Purdue University with degrees in electrical engineering and law. He was a real estate broker associate in Indiana and had a private law practice for 30 years, specializing in real estate, estate planning and personal injury. He is a member of Friendship Community Church, Gulf Beaches Rotary, Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce, among other groups.
Lunn says he would focus on making sure Treasure Island moves into the future while preserving its "small town atmosphere." Among the items on his wish list are a reinstatement of tolls to fund maintenance of the causeway bridge and a new municipal complex that includes a parking garage to accommodate visitors, particularly during major events.
"I absolutely love this community and want it to get the recognition it deserves, to not be stuck in the 1950s," Lunn says. "I am going to add enthusiasm to the job of mayor."
District 2 commissioner: elected by district residents to a two-year term; $5,400 salary
Buchyn, 55, has lived in the city for the past eight years and serves as chairman of the city’s Code Enforcement Board. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and moved to Florida 30 years ago. He works for FIS in St. Petersburg.
Buchyn says he would give a "fair hearing" to all viewpoints. He says while firmly opposing over-development, he would work toward revitalizing the city’s economy, finding ways to renovate existing structures "to create attractive venues" without changing building footprints.
"I’ve been able to observe and mediate many of the concerns important to Treasure Island residents," Buchyn says, citing such issues as short-term rentals and run-down properties. He says he will "avoid vanity projects" and focus on listening to residents rather than developers.
Payne, 27, is a third-generation city resident and is seeking his first elective office. He graduated from the University of Florida and holds a law degree and a master’s in business from Stetson University. Payne is director of administration for St. Petersburg-based Optimart. He previously served on the city’s Charter Review Committee and is a member of Leadership Florida and Florida Blue Key.
He says he can "bring a fresh perspective" to the commission and particularly wants to be a voice for residents who don’t normally participate in city politics.
"I want to give back to the community where I live. I think this is where I can have the most impact," Payne says. "I have a vested interest in preserving our beach community for generations to come."
District 4 commissioner: elected by district residents to a two-year term; $5,400 salary
Horak, 55, has been a Treasure Island homeowner and resident since 1992. She is a Florida attorney with a practice in probate and real estate law. She earned a master of laws degree in 2012 from the University of Florida, a law degree from Northeastern in 1990, and a bachelor’s degree from Union College in 1984.
She served as a member and chair on the Planning and Zoning Board for seven years and was a member of the Beach Stewardship and Flood Mitigation committees. She is past president of the Sunset Beach Civic Association.
"I have a history of leading on planning issues and taking a studied and detailed approach to making important changes to modernize our zoning laws while always considering the environment," Horak says. "I am running because I feel my experience will benefit the city."
Horak says she is an advocate for responsible redevelopment, conservative fiscal policies and environmental stewardship.
Keys, 53, has been a full-time resident since 2013 and previously lived in the city from 1994 to 2002. He is a partner in the firm Therapy Beds Direct, specializing in medical/trauma beds for burn victims and has contracts with the Veterans Administration in six states.
Keys has served on the commission for one term and is seeking re-election. He says he is proud of his record helping to pass the "leave no trace" ordinance, which protects the city’s beaches. If re-elected, he wants to focus on encouraging development within the city’s low-rise zoning guidelines and to be an advocate for residents.
"I want to be able to find solutions so we can say yes to what residents want," Keys says. "Last time I ran on a platform of no tolls and no tall buildings and no property tax increase."