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League of Women Voters of Sarasota County
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Sarasota, FL USA 34276-1884
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An Audience of Roughly 50 people at the Venice Community Center Listened to Candidates

Published on 10/21/2023
VENICE — As the four candidates for Venice City Council seats came together for the League of Women Voters forum Thursday evening, they all had basically the same message.

They love Venice, think it’s doing pretty well but also think it can get better in certain areas. And even on the topic of where the city can get better, they often agreed.

But there was passionate discussion about negative campaign flyers and whether it was wrong to take campaign money from developers.

The candidates included incumbent Mitzie Fiedler and her opponent, Joan Farrell, seeking Seat 1 along with Dusty Feller and Ron Smith each seeking Seat 2. They each answered the same questions, most from the League and some from the audience.

The forum was presented in partnership with the Venice Gondolier.

One of the questions asked the candidates to summarize in 1 minute how they would encourage the development of low-income housing.
“It cannot be solved by the city of Venice alone,” Feller said, referring to planning with and by other government agencies. “We need to work with our neighbors.”  Fiedler listed the steps the city has already taken, and Smith pointed out a new state law that gives developers incentives for building affordable housing. Farrell began talking about how another city turned empty storefronts into places for people to live, then added, “I think we need to think outside the box.”

The forum also included a question about growth and how the candidates would handle the issue of development.  Farrell talked about charging developers impact fees, and Fiedler said the city’s already doing that and adjusting those fees regularly. Feller said the city’s doing an “excellent job” with its land development regulations and comprehensive plan but can always get better.  Smith said the city can do a lot better.
“I believe people are tired of the unbridled growth,” he said. “I want to be on this City Council because of the paradise we live in.”

There was also discussion of how cities are losing control over many local issues because the state is passing laws that won’t let the municipalities make decisions. The issue is called “Home Rule” by local municipalities.
Fiedler, the only incumbent in the race, said she has a lot of experience with fighting for Home Rule and how it can be rough for residents to know who has the final say-so. “It becomes very difficult, very frustrating for the citizens,” she said.

As the forum switched to questions from the audience, Feller made pointed comments about her race against Smith. When the candidates were asked if they were being treated unfairly by the press, nobody said they were except Feller. “I don’t think Mitzie and I have had a clean shake,” she said, adding that it was “by design.”
She accused the Venice Gondolier of running a Facebook post and purposely using her photo on an issue she didn’t agree with.

When the question was raised about where candidates get their donations, Feller said she does not believe that taking a donation from a developer is equivalent to that developer buying a vote. Smith, her opponent, said the public can learn a lot about who is supporting a candidate by looking where their signs are located.
When the issue of negative campaign flyers and where they are coming from, Fiedler said she’s never sent out a negative campaign flyer but acknowledged other organizations might be sending them.
“I can only control what I can control,” she said. Feller said she had nothing to do with those flyers and that if she learns the people behind them, she will tell them she doesn’t like them.

In the closing remarks made by the candidates, Feller reiterated she doesn’t think she’s being treated fairly.
She said people were playing up too much how she would not sign the “Clean Campaign Pledge” sponsored by the Venice Thrives group — a group that endorsed her opponent. She said she will always run a clean campaign. She added that while focus was being made on that pledge, Smith was not coming to her defense on Facebook when his supporters were making false statements about her.

An audience of roughly 50 people at the Venice Community Center listened to candidates speak at the League of Women Voters forum Thursday.

A recording of this forum is available on our YouTube Channel.

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