Four compete for two city council seats

OKEECHOBEE — Four candidates — Mike O’Connor, Monica Clark, Ray Worley and Jerry Johnson — have qualified to compete for two seats on the Okeechobee City Council in the November election.

City voters may vote for two candidates from the four on the ballot. The top two “vote getters” will win the council seats. Mayor Jim Clark did not seek re-election this year. The city council will choose a new mayor from among the council members.

Mike O’Connor is the sole incumbent in the race. He has lived in Okeechobee for more than 45 years. He is a 1960 graduate of Palm Beach High School. Mr. O’Connor is the owner/operator of Mike’s Okeechobee Guns. Mr. O’Connor served on the Okeechobee City Council from 1993-1997, and from 2009 to the present.

Monica Clark has lived in Okeechobee since 1987.
“Although I haven’t lived in Okeechobee my whole life, I was born and raised in Clewiston on the south side of the Lake. These communities have similar issues,” stated Mrs. Clark.  Mrs. Clark received her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Villanova University in Pennsylvania. She moved to Okeechobee with her husband, Jim, and family to take over her father’s business, Glades Gas. She is the currently owner/manager of Glades Gas Co., now doing business as Glades Air Conditioning and Authorized Appliance Service Co.

Ray Worley moved to Okeechobee in 1968.
“I traveled as an Operating Engineer based out of Tampa Florida building power plants and high rise buildings until I moved back in 1993. My father and his uncle operated the dragline that dug the Rim Canal from Okee-Tantie to Nubbin Slough long before, living out around Mosquito Creek,” he stated.  Mr. Worley was a member of IUOE Local 25 Operating Engineers for 24 years. He has a certificate in Entrepreneurship and Business Planning and REAL Road to Business Success, Professional Development Business Training from Indian River State College. He also has taken professional business training classes from Hillsborough Community College.
“Additionally each and every organization I have ever started or been responsible for provided me operational training/education to ensure the long-term success of the mission of the organization,” Mr. Worley stated.

Jerry Roland Johnson stated he became “a snow buzzard” on Sept. 15, 2015. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Georgia State University. He was self-employed in the construction trades since 1962. He was a licensed, general/electrical contractor in Georgia, Texas, Montana and Virginia at various times. He retired in 2012.

The Okeechobee News chose the following questions for the candidates from those suggested by readers.

If elected, how much time a week do you expect to devote to city business?

CLARK: I will devote as much time as needed to do a great job as a city council woman. Some weeks I am sure the time commitment will be much greater than others. As a business owner in the City of Okeechobee I spend a great deal of time working with city business already.

JOHNSON: Whatever is required on rare occasions, normally up to 7 hours each week.

O’CONNOR: The compassion I have for the City of Okeechobee is with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As a local business owner and current councilman, I have and will continue to dedicate as much time as required to the city. I have put the city’s priorities on the front burner and am animatedly seeking ways to assist our local businesses’ and residents’ concerns. Although I have served in the past, I am even more excited and look forward to the opportunity of continuing to serve as councilman to the City of Okeechobee. I will be able to continue the projects, including the side walk expansions and drainage improvements.

WORLEY: I have long been considered a workaholic. In my candidate training with City Clerk Lane Gamiotea we discussed a lot of the other organizations that I am involved with. When elected there might be a couple of things that I may have to resign from. At this time none of these projects are on the resign to run list. When I am elected I am prepared to resign any position that I have to so that I can give maximum attention to the task of providing our citizens with my full and undivided loyalty to the councilman’s job.

What do you think is the most important issue currently facing the city and how would you address it?

CLARK: The most important issue facing the City of Okeechobee is the business atmosphere and revenue; more specifically is how to get more businesses into the city to help bring in more revenue and at the same time be an advocate for the existing businesses.

JOHNSON: Maintaining sound financial status of city budget, retirement systems funded level and financial surplus or reserves. Close study of possible needed revenues facing new city council.

O’CONNOR: Economic Development is our primary concern. This is not just the attraction of new business but looking out for our existing ones and allowing them to grow and expand. Coupled with the economic development is the lack of higher-end jobs and careers for our youth. To address the concerns is to both look at the needs of our local businesses and continue to support their efforts. The city has streamlined the process and works very well with new businesses and open to the view of its citizenry.

WORLEY: Our city audits present a glowing picture. Storm water and excessive water retention is a very big problem. I have already worked with the city to relieve storm water retention on the north side of the block on the east end of Southeast 6th Street. All the storm water on that side of the block collected under the last two addresses on that block. The city worked with the land owners to correct the problem and for two years the flooding of those yards has been alleviated. Additionally we have other capital projects that are on the books and we should get on with completing those projects.

What would like to change about the City of Okeechobee?

CLARK: The City of Okeechobee needs to be more flexible and accessible.

JOHNSON: Lower summer temperature by 18 degrees. To make any desired improvements cost money.

O’CONNOR: Over my past terms, I have strived to continually improve the city’s financial stability, its support of local businesses, while streamlining the permitting process and continuing to prepare comprehensive plans for the upcoming decade. Our staff works as a family to keep our city great. If I were to change the city, it would be to continue the road we have paved and look forward to the future. Along with my fellow council and citizens of Okeechobee, we will continue to make Okeechobee a better place to live and work. Let’s keep Okeechobee clean and great.

WORLEY: Our city website has listed on it an association with Treasure Coast Regional League of Cities and Treasure Coast Council of Local Government. I would like to see us realign our ties to the coastal entities to something available in the Heartland Rural Region. Our rural needs and values are not in sync with the Coastal Government Assistance Organizations. It is not that we want to be more like the cities on our coast we would just like to have more of their amenities. Our values are more in line with our sister cities to our west.

Do you think city taxes are too high? Too low? About right? Why?

CLARK: It would be crazy to say that I think the city taxes are too low. Everyone wants their taxes as low as possible but more importantly I think the people and business of Okeechobee want to feel they are getting their money’s worth out of every tax dollar.

JOHNSON: Everyone thinks taxes are too high. At present to maintain services that are necessary and desired by majority of voters the current level of taxes are about right.  If close scrutiny of proposed department budget request reveal any possible reduction of tax level then I would request such a reduction.

O’CONNOR: Our taxes currently within the city are at levels which coincide with 2008. The level over the past decades has been fairly consistent. The levels of service provided by the city rival those of more coastal communities. Police and fire response times in the 2-3 minute range are unmatched. The levels currently appear to be leveling off and no foreseeable additional taxes should be seen for businesses or residences. With increased growth we see increased sharing of the operations with a potential of tax reductions if more businesses expand or relocate to Okeechobee.

WORLEY: Just a little too high. The city is overly cash heavy for the number of citizens in our city the way the latest audit and the latest budget read. I am thankful that it appears all employees of the city will finally get a COLA of 1.5 percent. It is a small amount for the quality of employees that we have working for us and a token of what their efforts have done to support our accumulation of our Total Net Position. I think that it is about time for a Property Owner COTA, Cost of Taxes Adjustment.

Since some of the trees in Flagler Park were cut down for the work on the main intersection, many residents have expressed their disappointment that the trees have not yet been replaced. How do you respond to those voters who want to see more trees in Flagler Park?

CLARK: Trees in Flagler Park are beautiful, however I would have to look at the cost/benefit of replacing the trees before I could make a comment on replacing the trees.

JOHNSON: Tree planting cost tax monies. If majority of voters request such expenditures, knowing the cost of doing so, then I would vote to spend such on beautification.

O’CONNOR: Due to the FDOT expansion of Highway 70, a large portion of the landscaping funds were reduced by the state. However, as a council, we have currently allocated funds from reserves for the improvements within Flagler Park, including more trees and associated landscaping. These funds will be not only for landscaping but also for electrical improvements to make our downtown special events and festivals more enjoyable. I applaud the level and pride that our businesses and citizens take in their properties and the city should be the example for all residents. The parks are our pride and joy.

WORLEY: I have spent many days under the trees that you ask about in Flagler Park. Over the years I have come to think of each of them as personal friends. In working with DOT to encourage the expansion, I was under the belief that DOT was going to replace the trees that were taken out. The remaining trees are getting old. Oak trees, as they get older, deteriorate from the inside out and with our sudden storms which we have all experienced while working our festivals, the wrath of our weather is frequently felt. The blessing is that the city does have plans to replace the trees that have been lost and the money.

Do you think police should wear video cameras and film all arrests?

CLARK: The atmosphere in this country of police relationships and brutality is at an all-time high. There needs to be respect for those officers that put their life on the line every day. If video cameras help the police do their job, then by all means I would support the cameras if we could afford them.

JOHNSON: Large expenditure of tax monies. Again if recorded vote of majority wants such expenditures then I would vote for such.

O’CONNOR: The thought of the police wearing cameras is a good idea. However, the initial cost of a system, ongoing computer and support of the system and the administrative supervision to just complete the require  security and records request would be a financial burden to the city.

WORLEY: Okeechobee Police Department has a great working relationship with all cultures in our community. I believe that if our officers felt that adding cameras and wearing them they would have no problem approaching our city council with their recommendation of such a purchase. I also believe that the city council would provide them for each and every officer if they put something together and ask.

County race candidates questions and responses can be found here.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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