By Steve Plunkett
Candidates for the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District took off the gloves Aug. 2 in their first public forum.
“How can we expand our green space? … We need to focus this district on things that are bigger picture,” said Craig Ehrnst, who is challenging Dennis Frisch for Seat 1.
“Unfortunately there’s this miscommunication between the Beach and Park District and the city of Boca Raton,” said Shayla Enright, who is also running for Seat 1. “I’d like to work to improve that communication issue.”
“I am all about communication. I will take any call; I’ve taken any call. We are transparent,” Frisch said.
Seat 3 incumbent Earl Starkoff, who faces challenges from John Costello and Erin Wright, said, “Our relationship is not as troubled as the current narrative would have you believe. Our relationship over 40 years has grown working with the city.”
The Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations sponsored the forum at the Downtown Library. Costello and Wright were on vacation.
The candidates tackled communications with the city first. Starkoff said he wants three joint meetings a year between the City Council and the district, and biweekly meetings for the district’s executive director and the city manager.
On Ocean Strand, Ehrnst called for development of an oceanfront park now.
“Build it as a park. Use it,” he said. ”All of our green space is disappearing. To sit back and say, ‘There’s nothing else we can do,’ would be a shame.”
The other candidates were content to hold off.
“I have no problem with putting a few picnic tables down there so that the public can access it now if they wish. … That said, we don’t need to have anything there just because we own the property,” Frisch said.
Starkoff said, “We need to do something to clear the exotics. If you don’t take care of it, it only gets worse. If there’s an economical way to make that space available, we should do something.” He added that Ocean Strand could make an ideal stop for a future water taxi.
“I believe basically we should keep our green spaces green. I don’t think that we should develop all the property. Basically the property should be accessible to the public,” Enright said.
There were a few gaffes. Most notably, Enright said the proposed Lake Wyman restoration should not be solely a district project. The proposal comes from the county, the Florida Inland Navigation District and the city. Frisch noted the district is not yet involved. And Ehrnst said the district should take advantage of low interest rates to acquire more parkland. The district prides itself on not borrowing money, although Frisch said he would not be against it if the right opportunity came up.
Ehrnst apologized on Wright’s behalf for her absence and asked the audience to vote for both of them. Ehrnst and Wright held a joint fundraiser July 25; attendees included Mayor Susan Haynie and City Council members Michael Mullaugh, Jeremy Rodgers and Robert Weinroth.
Wright leads the other candidates in raising campaign donations, with $3,385 collected as of Aug. 1, most of it from firefighters. Wright is married to a Boca Raton firefighter.
Ehrnst was second in fundraising, reporting $3,135. His total included $100 from Haynie’s husband and several contributions from firefighters.
Other finance reports show Starkoff with $1,485; his contributors include Beach and Park District Chairman Robert Rollins and former City Council members Al Travasos and Cormac Conahan.
Frisch has collected $1,050, including $100 from a podiatrist in Connecticut and $250 from local architects Mummaw and Associates. Rollins has promised a donation, Frisch said.
Enright and Costello had not filed reports by Aug. 1.
WHAT: Citizen watchdog group BocaWatch will host a debate for all six candidates.
WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 11, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Boca Raton Community Center, 150 Crawford Blvd. (next to City Hall)