By Hank McCoy
Due to term limits, Commissioner Larry Vignola’s seat is up for grabs bringing a slew of candidates into the Seat 3 race.
The group of six candidates is wide-ranging with Randal Cutter, a Senior Pastor at New Dawn Community Church; Noor Fawzy, a Civil Litigation Attorney at Conroy Simberg, PA; Andy Kasten, President of Creative Financial Property & Casualty Group; Nancy Metayer, Statewide Coalition Manager at NEO Philanthropy; Joe Morera, Brands Operations Manager for ES Cosmetics International; and Abel Pena, CEO, and Co-Founder of Code Explorers Worldwide, who did not return several requests to be interviewed.
Coral Springs Talk asked about the candidates’ priorities and what they want for the city. Answers have been condensed.
What committees or appointed positions do you currently hold with the city? Do you think that will help prepare you to become a commissioner once you are elected? If you don’t hold any, why are you running for office?
Cutter: Back in 2004, I connected with the Multicultural Advisory Committee, then the subcommittee that I’m on, the National Day of Prayer Committee, and of course, over the years connected in a lot of what they do. So the committees have been very good ones for seeing the growing diversity and the strength of the community that is there because of that diversity. I’m co-chair of the Clergy Coalition in Coral Springs, and we do a couple of outreaches every year. I’m also a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I also co-founded in 2017 the Rapid Response to Hate Network.
Since Mayor Scott got elected, I’ve been involved in two of his personal initiatives with the Mental Wellness Networking Alliance and the Veterans Networking Alliance. I also was a chaplain for the Coral Springs Police Department in the late 90s and early 2000s. So just been growing in my involvement.
Fawzy: I serve on the Customer Involved Government Committee, also known as the CIGC, which is a general committee founded by our current Mayor, Scott Brook. My experience serving on the CIGC is invaluable because it acquainted me with the issues affecting Coral Springs and how the agencies and departments within our city work to address them.
Kasten: Okay, this is something that I’ve contemplated for quite some time. In fact, I’ve had previous commission members ask me to run. I guess they saw my many years of involvement in the Coral Springs Chamber of Commerce as well as the Coral Springs Redevelopment Agency as a positive.
Metayer: I’m currently on the Coral Springs Customer Involved Government Committee and the Coral Springs Neighborhood and Environmental Committee. My background and experiences make me uniquely qualified to succeed in the role of Coral Springs Commissioner.
Morera: The first committee that I joined was the Multicultural Advisory Committee in 1998, and I’m still a member of the committee. I was part of the Charter Review Committee, Special Events Funding Committee, Compensation Study Committee, I’m a board member of the Festival of the Arts, I’ve worked with the Taste of Coral Springs, I’m a former chair of the Human Rights Board of Broward County, currently serving as President of the Sunshine Water Control District, and various other committees and organizations. My experience on all these different boards has given me the ability to experience contract program implementation with the Capital Improvement Projects Budget and, as a result, has provided me with a good foundation to step up and become commissioner.
What makes you a good candidate?
Cutter: I understand the community. Right now, we live in fraught times, and I understand the community from the perspective of a Pastor at New Dawn Community Church. But also as a businessman, because I’m comfortable with million dollar plus budgets. When I started with the Clergy Coalition and the Multicultural Advisory Committee, I would stand up at every National Day of Prayer and say it’s very obvious we don’t all believe the same thing. We don’t all look the same way. But we can all be in this community blessing each other and working toward the common good of this community, blessing the community, whatever way we can. And that gives me, I think, a very good position from which to launch as a commissioner.
Fawzy: I’m an attorney. I work with a diverse array of clients, which I think is something that’s important because, as a commissioner, you have to solve problems and know how to listen to people. Not everyone’s going to see things the way you see them or see them the way that others see them, and so you have to know how to engage in problem-solving.
Kasten: I think if I go back to my experience, I’ve worked as not just a Chamber member but also as a board member for many years, executive board member, and then I was the chair of the chamber of commerce. So I’ve had a lot of connections with business owners and citizens. The learning curve is not too steep in terms of what would be needed to be on the commission. Being an insurance agent and working with a lot of business owners in Coral Springs, I think now more than ever, you need a really solid key business mind on that commission.
Metayer: I think I’m the best candidate for the seat because of my experience and my perspective on things. I’ve been able to not only intern at some amazing places where I’ve been able to build relationships I’ve interned at NOAA, the National Oceanic, and Atmospheric Administration. I have experience where I worked on an important project between the US Department of Defense Education, Haitian Ministry of Public Health, and local NGOs. We were able to provide Public Health Services to the Haitian population. Coordinating volunteers, ensuring that every doctor had a translator making sure things were done correctly.
Morera: I have been committed to the community for the last 22 years, working on all those different boards and contributing to the well-being of the community. I think that my commitment has demonstrated that I have the best interest of the residents at heart, and anything I’ve done has always been with that in mind. I believe that I could bring the same care, commitment, and common sense to the commission seat.
Coral Springs is not the same small town we were 25 years ago — and now we are the 15th largest city in the state, with big-city troubles. Where do you see Coral Springs in 5-10 years? How will you address the growing pains?
Cutter: There’s a couple of mistakes we can make that would be detrimental to the future of the city, and one of them is the idea of reallocating resources away from the core safety job of the police department. We’re one of the safest cities in Florida, and that’s what draws people to Coral Springs. They like this city. It’s not perfectly safe, but it’s got a reputation of being relatively safe. I think that we, as a city, can continue to prosper. I think that we can see creatively adding single-family and multi-family residences in areas of the city or community that can sustain it, without impacting traffic. I’d continue to improve our roads, of course, and I think Coral Springs could be a very prosperous place that people want to come and live even more in the future than they do now.
Fawzy: I think we really need to start thinking about the infrastructure. Especially our roads. Every town hall, someone brings up the issue of traffic and accidents and things like that. Believe it or not, that’s a construction and design issue that I don’t think has been addressed in a way that it should have been. We’ve also got a lot of residents in the city that complain about the fact that their Wi-Fi signals are not strong, and that’s a result of a city as large as Coral Springs not having adequate telecommunication infrastructure, which brings me back to infrastructure.
Kasten: We have this downtown project moving forward regardless of COVID, it’s going to happen. The first thing on the ground is going to be 300 and some odd rentals, and of course, I could see those four corners having more residential possibly. So with that brings the biggest argument that we get or the biggest issue that people have more or less. Traffic. They’ll notice the traffic, and in some ways, you just can’t avoid it because we don’t have a good source of public transportation. And even if we did, I’d be suspicious that we can get people to buy into using it because it’s almost like a paradigm shift, you’d have to get people to take public transportation. So I think that if we can connect areas of the city, and that would include the industrial park, those to me are big challenges that we have.
Metayer: Coral Springs has a population of over 127,000 residents. We have beautiful Parks. We have an outstanding Performing Arts Center and Museum. We are growing, and I want to see in 5 – 10 years younger people coming into our city as well as ensuring our elderly are getting the resources that they need because they are often living on a fixed income, and we want to make sure that it’s affordable for them as well. I see us being environmental leaders in the state, and it would be great to push our city to 100% renewable energy, utilize co-working spaces and care homes as well.
Morera: I’ve seen the evolution of the city from a nice community with a home feeling to an evolving young, expanding, and growing city. I think that as an administrator, you need to understand where people are at and provide the budgetary guidelines to address and implement those programs that will address the needs in a fiscal manner.
Since Coral Springs is virtually built out, what is your solution to keep people who still want to live in Coral Springs and make it their home?
Cutter: One of the things that I’ve been concerned about is the fact that as I knock on doors and run into people, they’re considering leaving because our seniors retire on a certain income, and they expect their taxes to rise incrementally. If we focus on the business side of the community and continue to develop the downtown areas and continue to work on the Corporate Park, there are some things that we can do with very little money, honestly. If we can keep up with the infrastructure needs of the city, that will be an important thing for the future.
Fawzy: One area, in my opinion, that can be rehabilitated, is public housing. Obviously it’s federal housing, so we don’t really have much of a say either way on this issue, but those buildings don’t really match the physical character and physical identity of the city. I got a problem with that because I think identity is important and one of the reasons why we have so many families coming to Coral Springs is because they like the look of the city. I think that we need to engage our friends in the developer community to come up with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for these buildings. Our residents who live in public housing, it’s not their fault. Unfortunately, they don’t have a say about the look of the buildings either.
Kasten: Well, again, I keep pointing to the downtown project. For instance, my wife and I are empty-nesters, we talked about it, maybe these apartments that they’re building downtown will be really nice. So, wouldn’t it be cool to live in a downtown where you don’t have to drive anywhere? You can park, leave the car, and walk to all these great venues that are available there. For seniors, they built pickleball courts. We never had that before because that’s an older demographic of people that want to play that. On the other side, I’d love to see young people stay because a lot of them can’t, there aren’t jobs for them. They would stay if that was available.
Metayer: I think the best thing that we can do is we should start looking at ways to continue keeping Coral Springs beautiful. Beautification programs help our elderly population because they still own homes, but they’re having trouble keeping their homes. I want to take volunteering in the city a step further. We could start by coordinating with Coral Springs High School to get volunteers to help with the beautification of our elderly’s neighborhoods. They can mow lawns, paint homes, and help with home repairs to keep those homes beautiful. This will help keep values intact. We’re seeing city’s being very innovative with green infrastructure where they’re growing landscaping on the side of buildings to help absorb carbon dioxide, that would not only help our environment but also add a little beautification to our city, especially when we consider what downtown would look like.
Morera: Make it so seniors feel comfortable with staying in Coral Springs. There’s a couple of approaches that we can use. You still want to make the community welcoming to young, vibrant families with friendly and sustainable benefits and a safety point in the community, but we can also make sure that our seniors feel like they can see the benefit of the services the city provides for them.
Also, we need to make sure that we expand on our open areas to create areas where the community can gather together. We have to make sure that our parks are accessible to all that choose to use them and are able to provide a safe environment. So people that are looking for places to move find Coral Springs as a community to move into.
What is your opinion of the Downtown plan? Is your plan to commit to seeing it through?
Cutter: Oh, yes. Definitely that plan has to go forward in order for us to realize the revenue from it. That plan was already in place in 2014 at some level. So yes, I’m for it.
Fawzy: Yes. Well, I mean to me, it kind of felt like it was going to happen whether we like it or not. My biggest concern with the downtown was we’re not like Fort Lauderdale, we’re not like any downtown areas, and I just wasn’t sure if that was going to be the right move for Coral Springs. We’re a suburb and a very quiet area, and I feel like many families came to Coral Springs for those reasons, and I’m worried about how a downtown area might affect that.
Kasten: So I think it’s a really good plan. I think the developer did a good job of making sure it’s walkable, and it’s going to be great fun to walk downtown and have people that can live, work, and play right there. So I am fully committed to it.
Metayer: Well, my opinion about the downtown plan is I want to ensure that the plan gets community buy-in. I don’t want something to be placed in our downtown if our communities are not happy about it, and I want them to be very happy with what the results are. Because guess what? We’re paying for it. I want it done. I would love to see it implemented or constructed in a way that’s environmentally friendly and can be a staple statewide, countywide, and citywide as an innovative piece.
Morera: Well, the downtown project is something that has been talked about for many many years. We definitely need to continue the development of the downtown area. It’ll be something that needs to follow the market needs, the dictation of the business cycle, and how that will impact what is built and when.
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