Recap of Sebastian Daily City Council Candidates Forum

Ed Dodd, Jim Hill, Diana Bolton, and Bill Simmons.
Ed Dodd, Jim Hill, Diana Bolton, and Bill Simmons.

Last Wednesday, we hosted our City Council candidates forum at the Tiki Bar & Grill in Sebastian. The candidates running in the Nov. 3 election are Ed Dodd, Jim Hill, Bill Simmons, and Diana Bolton.

It was a great forum, and all candidates were asked equal questions. We’ll recap the critical questions and answers, and provide some fact checks along the way.

First, we will address the most popular questions sent in by citizens.

What is your position on annexing more property into the city of Sebastian?

“Get ready, I’m pro annexation,” Dodd said. “I believe the city needs to grow.”

Dodd said he believes that it needs to grow to the south to fulfill what the city needs. The city will have an opportunity to develop some commercial opportunities and some mixed developments that will include workforce housing, which he believes we need.

Dodd wants to have better communication with the county, and if that’s not possible, he feels the city will have to move forward on its own.

Hill said the question should be if the citizens want to control the growth or not.

“The question isn’t just ‘are you pro annexation’ it’s ‘are you pro the City of Sebastian controlling the type of growth and development that happens in and around our area,” Hill stated.

Hill also said he guarantees that the City of Vero Beach wishes they had annexed the properties surrounding them decades ago. The population surrounding Vero Beach is greater than the city itself.

“I am in favor of annexation because I am in favor of protecting the city, and letting the citizens decide, the citizens of Sebastian to decide, how it’s developed,” Hill said.

Hill said people were lied to about the annexation last year.

“You were lied to a year ago about an annexation, and then all hell broke loose in the City of Sebastian. We can’t let lies get in the way again,” he said.

Simmons is on the Planning & Zoning board but wasn’t at the meeting when the annexation issue came up for a vote before sending it to the City Council for approval.

At the time, he said he would vote against the annexation. However, he now says he would support it.

“Since that time, I have looked back, and what I’ve learned now that I didn’t know then, I probably would have voted for that annexation, and actually, the Planning & Zoning would’ve made the recommendation to Council to proceed,” he said.

Simmons said he agrees with Dodd and that the city should work with the county to “make it fly.”

Bolton says she “comes from the future” because she had seen a lot of development on the west coast where she worked as a mortgage broker. She then tried to explain what happened with the Sebastian annexation.

“That’s a loaded question. It depends. It depends if people are involved with the input if it makes sense if the numbers make sense,” she said.

Bolton said she was brought up that if you don’t take care of what you have, you don’t get anymore. Then she interpreted what really happened last year in August 2019 during a meeting when the Council was voting on the annexation.

“What happened here was the public got really angry because they weren’t part of the process,” Bolton said.

Fact Check

Sebastian Daily learned that there were plenty of opportunities for the public to provide input and be involved. It was advertised on the City of Sebastian website and Facebook page, like all other announcements. No one showed up for these meetings.

Last year, three candidates (Damien Gilliams, Pamela Parris, Charles Mauti) ran on the annexation platform to get elected. There was a lot of misinformation being spread by the candidates and their close supporters. As a result of their misguidance, angry citizens ambushed the City Council meeting during the annexation vote.

If you want to know the full truth, please watch our interview with Mayor Ed Dodd. He explains it well.

Sebastian has been annexing property from the Graves Brothers for over 100 years. All land within the city limits was annexed as the city grew. Moreover, all past annexations took place to control growth.

According to our latest poll, 73 percent of Sebastian Daily readers now favor the annexation. Last year, only 26 percent favored it.

Aside from the issues of annexation and canal/drainage management, what do you see as your top issue facing the city?

Hill said maintaining the city’s history, quality of life, the environment, and economic development are issues that are very important to him.

Simmons agreed with Hill and wanted to add infrastructure as another city problem, such as the roads.

Bolton said “water quality” was a top issue facing the city. She went on to say “once you put the poison in the water, you’ll never get it back out again,” referring to spraying chemicals to kill weeds. She then said we have fertilizer and biosolids being “dumped out” into our waterways.

Dodd said it’s important for the city to define and plan for what it’s going to look like in the next 20 years. He mentioned the importance of the city’s comprehensive plan, which includes issues like the septic to sewer program handled right now through a grant program.

How do you propose to address maintaining the canal’s mechanical/herbicides?

Simmons said he’s seen the mechanical harvester in operation but thinks the bigger problem is the debris from the ditches leading into the canals.

Dodd said the city is in the process now of spending a million dollars, mostly with grant monies, on a stormwater masterplan. The new plan will identify low and high points of where the water flows. He also said another future project forthcoming is correcting the swales and ditches, which he is hoping to pay for it by using additional grant monies.

Dodd couldn’t decide on whether to use a mechanical harvester or not. He’s read studies from IFAS at the University of Florida in Orlando to the City of San Francisco, showing a combination of herbicides, manual (mechanical harvester), and non-herbicides.

Dodd said the mechanical harvesting they did at Hardee Lake created a bigger problem than it solved. He doesn’t believe that’s the way to do it. However, he did say there are other manual harvesting techniques they will have to test.

Bolton reminded everyone that there is a moratorium on all spraying. She suggested doing more manual and use spraying as a last resort. She feels the city should insource it more for manual cleaning to fill more local jobs.

Bolton says aquatic weeds are good, very healthy, and help filter and clean out the water. “Plants are our friends,” she added.

Hill said the city’s moratorium on its parks and canals was “the single most destructive decision ever made by the City Council in the entire 16 years” he’s served. He said they tried the mechanical harvesting before the moratorium, among other things. He says pest management practices is the right way to maintain the waterways, adding that the moratorium destroyed the community.

“You cannot stop doing something unless you have a plan to replace it,” he said.

Hill said it was ridiculous to stop something and then figure out what to do later. He also mentioned he’s for the environment, calling the City of Sebastian the leader in Indian River County and the east coast for the past two decades trying to clean up the lagoon.

Does the county think Sebastian is a joke?

During one of the questions, which was how the city could improve relations with the county, Bolton said there’s a lot of bad blood between the city and the county, so she’s heard.

“The county is a little bit more together than Sebastian is, and in the county, Sebastian is a bit of a joke. That’s what I know,” she said.

Bolton suggests that the city share resources with the county, attend more county meetings, and vice versa. She said the county was at one of the City Council meetings and the people were intelligent, and “they had it together.”

Hill addressed Bolton’s comment that the county may think, “Sebastian is a bit of a joke.”

“I can tell you now Sebastian is not a joke, never has been a joke, because we do what’s right in Indian River County. We’re leaders in this community. We are the leaders on the environment,” Hill said.

Conclusion

The November election is right around the corner. Two veteran City Council members (Hill & Dodd) and two new candidates (Simmons & Bolton) are running against them.

The best thing to do is to go out and vote. We all witnessed what happened last year when people didn’t vote.

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About Andy Hodges
Andy Hodges was born in Annapolis, Maryland and raised in Jupiter, Florida. Andy has been a radio & TV personality since the 1980s. He has worked for WLIZ, WFLX-FOX 29, WIRK, WIXI, WKSY, WRMF, and WJNO to name a few. After spending 7 years in Atlanta, Georgia during the 1990s, Andy returned to Florida and settled in the small town of Sebastian in 2000. In 2005, he returned to the broadcasting news sector and eventually joined our news team in 2016 as editor in chief. Andy's family has lived in Sebastian for more than 45 years.