Correction: In candidate profiles and an accompanying story [Candidates say backgrounds distinguish them] in the March edition, we incorrectly reported that Ocean Ridge commissioners are elected for a two-year term of office. They are elected for a three-year term.
By Tim O’Meilia
Falling revenue, rising fire-rescue costs and the new police union emerged as some of the biggest concerns of Ocean Ridge residents during a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Town Hall Feb. 24.
Ed Brookes, Zoanne Hennigan and 12-year Commissioner Betty Bingham are vying for two commission seats in the March 8 election.
The trio largely agreed on the major issues and told the 40 or so residents at the forum that their backgrounds separated them from each other.
A 23-year career in marketing and human resources for a multinational firm made Hennigan “an effective and responsive decision maker,” she said. “It’s clear to me we are sorely lacking in communication.”
She said the town must go beyond e-mail blasts and an information kiosk at Town Hall to reach residents. She said a scrolling announcement sign in front of Town Hall might help.
Brookes touted his experience running several businesses and time on a Pennsylvania council make him prepared to handle the commission job. “Our résumés will probably separate us,” he said.
Bingham said her background in small business and her years on the commission make her suited for the position. She said her efforts on the bridge committee helped keep the replacement from being too tall. She said she was well-versed in the town’s ecosystem. “Our beaches are our jewels,” she said.
All three agreed that dipping into the town’s $2.5 million reserves was the right way to handle the town’s falling revenues until the economy rebounds. Bingham and Brookes said the town’s fire-rescue contract with Boynton Beach is becoming expensive for the town, eating up 19 percent of the budget.
Bingham said the 4 percent annual increases are a handicap. Brookes said Boynton Beach’s mayor may be receptive to adjusting the terms of the contract before it expires in 2016.
Hennigan said some town residents “feel they’ve been betrayed” by the decision of the Police Department’s rank-and-file to form a union. “The town has been generous in salaries, benefits and working conditions,” she said.
Brookes suggested that upcoming collective bargaining talks will be an opportunity to reduce costs. “Now everything is on the table. We want the best police department we can afford,” he said.
Bingham agreed. “We may find a lot of things we can do, mostly in benefits,” she said. “We’re going to have to sit down and do some hard talking.”
One area of disagreement was whether the commission should have term limits. “It is healthy to have turnover and change. It’s really what government is about,” Hennigan said. She suggested two or three three-year terms would be enough. Commissioners now serve three-year terms.
Both Bingham and Brookes opposed term limits. “We’re a small town. People can evaluate whether (a commissioner) is an asset,” she said. “Sometimes it’s better to keep what you know rather than what you don’t know.”
Brookes said residents know the commissioners well. “In a town this size, you might quickly run out of people who want to run or who are qualified to run,” he said.