On August 23rd in the primary election, all Charlotte County voters – including more than 35,000 Democrats and 43,000 Independent voters – will have the opportunity to choose the County Commissioners to represent Districts 2 and 4.
In an effort to inform the voters of the candidates’ positions on critical issues, Charlotte County Democrats asked all six candidates to answer the following questions. District 4 candidate Tom Sullivan’s responses appear below.
- Clean and healthy water is an essential feature of our community. But Mosaic’s threat of mining upriver, antiquated and unrepaired septic systems, and pollutants that result from increased development each threaten the water quality in the Peace and Myakka Rivers, Charlotte Harbor, and the surrounding waters. What would you do as Commissioner to resolve existing problems with waste treatment in old and new housing, and the looming issue of phosphate mining?
First, I will defend the county’s comprehensive development plan against those who would run roughshod over existing homeowners, proper planning, and sound land and water management practices. I will also seek to slow the approval process for big developments, providing more time and more public input to consider fully the impact of major new housing projects on the environment, traffic and public safety.
Second, I’d go to Tallahassee or Washington, D.C., or both, if necessary, in search of more funding to make the county’s ongoing conversion from septic to sewer more affordable for our residents, especially seniors on fixed incomes. I’ll also work to speed up the replacement of the county’s old sewer lines.
Third, I’ll insist that the county’s attorneys closely monitor developments in the ongoing legal dispute over phosphate mining between nearby DeSoto County and fertilizer giant Mosaic. Charlotte County has a paramount interest in the future of the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor and our residents must have a voice on its future as well.
The fight for clean water in Charlotte County has bipartisan support. The county hired a full-time water quality manager last year. But we still need to implement a credible, effective and ongoing water quality monitoring and reporting program. I’m a 62-year-old retired financial journalist with a BA in Communication from Rutgers University. After 25 years of reporting for Dow Jones, Barron’s magazine and The Wall Street Journal, I can read a balance sheet. I will prioritize funding for clean water even if a recession roils the county’s budget. I know that clean water is Charlotte County’s greatest natural asset.
- Development is at an all-time high in a county where rapid growth is nothing new. Often residents see problems arising in their locales before public officials react. Residents of the Burnt Store corridor and Englewood are alarmed at proposed developments in their community. Likewise, daily commuters on US 41 and SR 776 in northeast Port Charlotte are dreading additional traffic snarls caused by West Port and other developments. This is true countywide. What will you do to answer these concerns, now and going forward?
If elected, I will protect our established neighborhoods from encroachment by industrial, commercial and high-density development. The residents of Burnt Store Road, Harborview and South Gulf Cove, among others, will have a friend in me.
I will appoint citizens to our planning and zoning boards who will seek to slow the approval process for big developments. Traffic in particular has become so bad so quickly that the county has begun a new study with taxpayer dollars on a further widening of Burnt Store Road – just months after the road was widened to four lanes!
I have not and will not accept political contributions from developers seeking waivers, exemptions, subsidies, or other special benefits from the county. (My opponent, incumbent Stephen Deutsch, was criticized in 2018 by Englewood Indivisible for taking political contributions from Allegiant Air/Sunseeker Resort and Murdock LLC.) I’ve been endorsed by Charlotte-DeSoto Builders and Realtors, representatives of a vital industry that provides good-paying jobs to our residents, including our young people. Smart, sustainable development is in everyone’s interest.
- Speaking of growth, Babcock Ranch is becoming a major population center in Charlotte County. How do you propose to ensure it has all necessary vital services, and how will you seek to integrate this community into Charlotte County so we might all benefit from its vibrant, forward-looking nature, while ensuring its geographic location in our southeast corner doesn’t make it a de facto part of Lee County?
Fortunately, Babcock Ranch, the first solar-powered community in the United States, has included detailed plans for its utilities, roads, drainage, law enforcement, and fire and emergency management services from the beginning of its development in 2006. The developer, Kitson & Partners, has committed $50 million to county road improvements, including the expansion of Route 31. It’s the job of Charlotte County’s Community Development department to see that the developer’s plans and promises are kept. If elected as a county commissioner, I’ll make sure the department continues to do its job.
Residents of Babcock Ranch already enjoy Charlotte County’s many parks, beaches, shops and restaurants. Many Charlotte County residents, in turn, enjoy visiting the 68,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve, which includes a hiking trail, an equestrian trail, an eco-tour and other recreational amenities. We all pay the same taxes to the same local government. We must continue to be good neighbors to preserve our shared natural environment.
- Babcock Ranch has a large fieldhouse that is also intended to be used as a hurricane shelter. Many of us have lived through a major hurricane. Some, more than one. We understand that threat all too well, and see an increased year ‘round population with insufficient places to shelter locally or routes to evacuate. A hurricane could hit anytime. How will you address this situation to ensure the safety of Charlotte County residents?
Charlotte County needs some new thinking about hurricane shelters. While Babcock Ranch has a school field house that will double as a hurricane shelter, Punta Gorda has no hurricane shelter because the city is located in a so-called Red Zone. The county has used Liberty and Kingsway elementary schools in Port Charlotte as hurricane shelters in the past even though all of the county’s schools are in flood zones that preclude certification by the Red Cross.
If elected, I’ll ask the county to identify either existing buildings or buildings proposed for construction that could serve the dual purpose of storm shelter. It will cost lots of money to either reconstruct an existing building or build a new one from scratch. Fortunately, I’m a numbers guy. I’ll get options. While it’s a nonpartisan issue, it will require lots of public input. I’m ready to get started on the feasibility process before the next hurricane season is upon us.
- Charlotte County hospitals rank, for the most part, on the lower end of the ratings spectrum. However, the nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals that we share neighborhoods with are working harder, under tougher conditions, and getting less respect. Most of your constituents are seniors and, maybe more than anything, we need top quality healthcare to be the norm in Charlotte County. Explain how you, as a Commissioner, will lead this effort.
Charlotte County has one of the oldest populations in the U.S. Our residents, many of them veterans, should have the best hospitals! We have dedicated healthcare workers in our county’s hospitals. I’ve been a substitute teacher during the past six years for Charlotte County public schools, including Charlotte Technical College, and I know from experience that our nursing students are also intelligent, compassionate, and well prepared.
A big problem Charlotte County faces regarding healthcare is the relatively small size of our population. Healthcare organizations often decide whether to expand services based on population. That’s apparently why some hospitals in Lee and Sarasota counties have more advanced services than Charlotte County. Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, for example, recently announced plans for a new hospital in nearby North Port.
Charlotte County should do what it can to help our healthcare providers expand partnerships with others in Southwest Florida to give our residents more medical choices. I’ll fight to keep the county’s Health department – the only part of local government with authority and responsibility for health care – fully staffed, fully stocked and fully funded.
- Health care professionals, teachers, emergency response personnel, and essential workers such as waiters and cashiers cannot afford to live in Charlotte County. How will you address the affordable housing crisis in our local communities?
Unfortunately, the issue of affordable housing, a statutory obligation of local government in Florida, has vexed Charlotte County for years. Most recently, the county has considered a number of housing alternatives, including factory-built modular housing, “mini-housing,” and unconventional housing developed from converted shipping containers, it has pursued public-private partnerships as well as regional solutions, and has competed for limited state and federal subsidies. Yet the situation has gotten worse.
The need for affordable housing is a bipartisan issue requiring bipartisan support. The Charlotte County Board of Commissioners has five members, all of whom are in their second or third terms. That makes me the candidate of change! If elected, I’ll put a sharp focus on the housing crisis faced by our nurses, teachers, EMTS. I’ll be an ally seeking realistic and timely brick-and-mortar solutions.
Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions. If you need any additional information, please contact me at your earlier convenience.