By Dan Moffett
Three candidates for two Ocean Ridge Town Commission seats made their cases to voters during a 90-minute forum Feb. 21 sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Incumbent Gail Adams Aaskov, a former mayor who is running for her sixth term in the past two decades, offered the steady hand of experience as grounds for re-election on March 13, not only as a commissioner but as a longtime resident and small-business owner.
“I think there’s a lot of things we all agree on about what’s coming and what we should be doing ahead of time,” Aaskov said. “I love Ocean Ridge. I’ve lived here for 25 years. It’s a great place.”
Phil Besler, a political newcomer, told the audience of 125 in Town Hall that his expertise as a certified public accountant for 40 years in New Jersey would serve Ocean Ridge well and benefit taxpayers with budgeting aimed at the long term.
“I know I can increase the reserves of this place,” he said.
Kristine de Haseth said she would bring “new energy” to the commission and also regional connections after 12 years of working with local governments on growth issues as director of the Florida Coalition for Preservation.
“I’m not only uniquely qualified, but those who know me know that I’m pretty passionate,” de Haseth said. “I work hard and I work smart.”
The three candidates agreed that rapid growth in Boynton Beach poses a threat to the small-town quality of life in Ocean Ridge. But the commission is still searching for a comprehensive strategy to deal with it.
“I think all of us want to keep Ocean Ridge a small town but to do that we have to have security,” Besler said.
There was unanimous support for installing license plate recognition cameras. Aaskov said she’s “been pushing for it for years” and will continue to do so. Besler said, besides an LPR system, he supports using private security cameras of willing residents to augment the town’s network.
De Haseth said to maintain quality of life, it’s essential “to make sure our Police Department has the right tools.” LPR cameras are “a good tool but nothing more than a tool.” Going forward, police will need more than cameras, she said.
When it comes to managing beach access and the increasing number of beachgoers from the mainland, the candidates generally want improved signage and steady police enforcement.
Besler favors developing a 20-year strategic plan that takes a proactive approach to pressures from the outside, from Boynton Beach and Tallahassee as well.
“I think our biggest enemy — and I hate to say this — is the state of Florida,” he said. “If we want to maintain a small town, if you look at the regulations they’re trying to pass in the state of Florida, who’s controlling that? It’s the lobbyists, and they’re getting paid by developers and they’re getting paid by big hotel chains.”
De Haseth said the town “made a critical error” in losing the police contract with Briny Breezes to Boynton Beach. She argued that, because Boynton now provides all services (police, fire-rescue and water utilities) to Briny, it opens the door to the community’s annexation and possible development.
Besler and de Haseth are open to imposing term limits on commissioners. “Every town needs fresh blood every once in a while,” de Haseth said.
Aaskov opposes the change, citing the difficulty of finding people willing to serve in a small town and the value of experience and institutional knowledge.
Commissioners serve three-year terms and are paid $1,200 a year.