Friday, September 12, 2008

Seven candidates vying for Bethel Island board

A record number of islanders are running for three seats on the Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District and most are looking to revamp the board's approach to solving levee and drainage issues in this growing hamlet.

Six newcomers and one incumbent are vying for spots on the district board, which is responsible for levee maintenance. A vast majority of the candidates agree that the district is moving in the wrong direction.

"The reason that I want to run is because this board has become so polarized for the residents and that is why you see so many people running," said newcomer and developer Jeff Rocca.

Rocca said he sees a lack of land use knowledge from the current board. The 42-year-old added that they have taken a negative approach to dealing with residents in this close-knit community.

Retired police sergeant Ralph Maloney said the problem lies in some recent BIMID ordinances that have been enforced. Maloney, 60, said he would bring more common sense and better leadership to the board if elected in November.

"I'm dissatisfied with the way that BIMID is being run right now," he said. "The focus should be on the levees. The board is enacting rules and regulations that are just way out of their jurisdiction."

Engineer Dennis Eisenbeis said if he is elected, he would revoke some of these new ordinances and return to pre-existing ones. Regulations that limit activities on the levees and abate nuisances are eliminating Advertisementproperty owners' rights, according to Eisenbeis.

"I want to reset proper fiscal management, go back to proven methods of levee management and focus on building the infrastructure," the 49-year-old resident said. "This is the most people I have ever seen run for BIMID. Some of the actions they (board) are taking are far and beyond what is necessary for the safety of the levees and the island."

Former hairstylist and gift shop owner Janet Northam said that residents don't like the current direction of the board. She said she is running to help take back the property rights of residents.

"I want to take the politics out of it and return it to a service district," Northam, 52, said. "They are a service district. They shouldn't be political."

Former BIMID director and district manager Paul Harper is running on a similar platform. Harper, 67, said the board has overspent BIMID funds on attorney fees, overextended the district's reach into the county's jurisdiction and overlooked the commercial and residential needs of the growing resort/recreational community.

"The current board has deviated from its main purpose of levee safety as a priority for what they do," he wrote in a candidate's statement. "They have put the majority of both staff and board energy into redoing ordinances that have become anti-Bethel Island and have become some unknown entity that is not of the people, nor is it for the people, nor is it by the people."

Newcomer and live-aboard resident Bob Amrine plans on being accessible to his constituents if elected. The 62-year-old retired operations manager said he would visit the BIMID office regularly to talk to residents about their concerns and questions.

"Since I'm retired I want to be at the office so people can air the good, the bad and the ugly," Amrine said. "The people are the ones that will put me in office so they are the ones I would answer to."

Appointed last November, incumbent Thomas Knorr wants to continue to offer his knowledge and experience to the board. He also formerly worked for BIMID as an assistant levee superintendent.

"I fully understand the severity of the issues and the fragility of the levees," Knorr, 49, said. "I would like to bring to the island just an honest way of doing things and let the people get involved and let them run the government. I would just like to see things done right."

Incumbents Olga Jones and Sheila Goodson have opted not to run for re-election this year. Jones was appointed last year and Goodson has been on the board since 2004.

Jones said the community suffers from a lack of understanding and participation among residents. She added that the public must be educated on BIMID's role to protect the island and its levees, which means that residents are limited on what they can do around the levees.

"We have a sphere of influence. We must protect the levees and we must see that harmful things are not done," Jones said.

Goodson said she is not running due to personal reasons involving family care. Goodson added that she is proud of what she has accomplished on the board, including the establishment of the annual Safety Fair, improved levee safety and stronger working relationships with other agencies.

"We have an extremely fragile levee and it needs considerable improvement," she said. "I was simply trying to ensure the safety and security of the residents on the island."

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