RELATED STORY: Candidate profiles
By Rich Pollack
Three candidates vying for two seats on the Ocean Ridge Town Commission shared their views on everything from sewers and drainage to openness in government and the performance of the town manager during a candidates forum late last month.
Incumbent Commissioner Gail Adams Aaskov and Mayor Geoff Pugh were joined by former commissioner Ed Brookes and spent the better part of an hour answering questions submitted by some among more than 50 residents who attended the forum. The League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County hosted and moderated the event, held in the Ocean Ridge Town Hall.
All three candidates spoke about their experience in serving the residents of Ocean Ridge and about their dedication to the town.
“This is one of the best jobs in the world because you get to see the changes you make,” Pugh said. “I want to continue doing what I’ve done for the last 12 years — working for the people of Ocean Ridge.”
In her opening statements, Aaskov said she, too, has a long track record of serving the town, having spent 12 years on the Town Commission, including three years as mayor.
Brookes, who served on the commission from 2011 though 2014, said he is hoping to see an end to “done deals” presented at commission meetings and an end to personal agendas.
“I’m running because I want to keep Ocean Ridge’s unique character while we face challenges,” he said.
While there was agreement on many topics, the candidates differed on several issues, including the need for openness and transparency and how personnel issues are handled. They also discussed the performance of Town Manager Kenneth Schenck.
Both Pugh and Brookes said they thought that Schenck, who has come under fire for his role in the negotiated resignation of Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi earlier this year, might no longer be able to keep up with the town’s growth and emerging challenges.
“The town of Ocean Ridge has issues that require more leadership than we have,” Pugh said. “The town manager has to lead and right now he’s not.”
Brookes echoed a similar concern.
“I think the town has outgrown the town manager’s skill sets,” he said.
Aaskov said she planned to conduct a performance evaluation of the town manager.
During his answer to the question about Schenck’s performance, Brookes took issue with a Town Commission decision to deviate from its normal procedures and do the manager’s performance evaluations in private, with commissioners meeting individually with Schneck.
“It should be done in public, the way we’ve always done it so we know what you are thinking, unless there’s some ulterior motive,” he said.
Brookes was also critical of the town’s hiring practices and questioned the hiring of Town Attorney Ken Spillias as a full-time in-house town attorney. Until a few weeks ago Spillias served as a contracted town attorney.
“We really don’t have very good human-resources procedures,” he said. “We need smart and institutionalized best practices.”
Aaskov said she would like to see more advance planning for staff changes, such as the impending retirement of longtime Town Clerk Karen Hancsak.
During the forum issues of beach access and safety also surfaced.
Aaskov said she is strongly in favor of license plate recognition cameras and would like to see issues at the Police Department, including low morale among officers, resolved.
Pugh said he would like to make it more difficult for criminals from outside to come into the town as surrounding cities continue to grow.
Aaskov, Brookes and Pugh agreed that public access to the beach should be provided but that beach visitors should respect property owners’ right to privacy.
Brookes said he is concerned about the divisiveness of beach access issues. “This is the first time I’ve heard people referred to as ‘those beach people,’ ” he said.