CScandidates072320A

The Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce hosted an online Zoom debate Charlotte County School Board District 2 candidates Kim Amontree (bottom center), Joe Williams (middle center) and Charlotte County Airport Authority District 1 seat candidates Vanessa Oliver (middle left) and Bob Starr (middle right). Chamber President Tony Smith (top right) hosted the webinar. Chamber members Justin Brand (top center) and Denise Dull (top left) served as moderators.

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce hosted an online Zoom debate Wednesday featuring the four candidates running in the primary election this year.

Charlotte County School Board District 2 candidates Kim Amontree (incumbent) faced off against challenger Joe Williams.

For the Charlotte County Airport Authority District 1 seat, Vanessa Oliver went up against Bob Starr.

THE SCHOOL BOARD

1. Candidates were asked how they would ensure students receive the best education despite issues with COVID-19.

Williams thought they should delay the students’ return to school beyond the Aug. 31 return date, “possibly after Labor Day.”

He also suggested installing cameras inside the classrooms for home learning and to stagger classes when students return.

“If we staggered it where the students were in school for a couple of days every week and then had the home distance learning for the remainder of the week, I really think that is a much safer way of handling this matter,” Williams said.

Amontree supported the Aug. 31 return, stating it was as late as they could push the delay and that students are now required to wear masks or face coverings while at school.

“Our students have an important role to play in keeping our entire community safe and I think when we talk to students about (that) role ... that they will rise to that challenge,” Amontree said.

2. Candidates were also asked what they thought the biggest struggles would be for Charlotte County public schools and how to overcome them.

Amontree said reopening schools was the biggest struggle right now.

She sees another part of that struggle as what to do if a student, teacher or staff member is sent home because of coronavirus.

“How do we make sure that that student is able to keep learning during that two-week time period,” Amontree said. “(Teachers and staff) if they test positive ... we’re going to need to make sure we have substitute teachers on call, bus drivers, food service workers; it is going to be an enormous challenge.”

Williams admitted that reopening was a big challenge but that it is “a one-time challenge” compared to what he saw as larger long-term concerns such as a lack of communication between teachers and parents.

Because of this, Williams said that students are falling through the cracks.

“That’s the reason we have to (grade on the curve) right now,” Williams said. “If you give somebody who earned an ‘F’ a ‘C’, how in the world can you say they passed and consider that graduating?”

THE AIRPORT AUTHORITY

1. Candidates were asked what they envisioned for the future economic impact of Punta Gorda Airport on the community.

Starr said he sees the airport as a huge economic driver for Charlotte County, but he thinks the Airport Authority should be more proactive.

“Let’s go to New York,” Starr said. “Let’s find some big real estate brokers who deal in industrial real estate. We need to take the bull by the horns, find potential people (like Cheney Bros.). Let’s go and sell the benefits of the Charlotte County (and the) airport and get them to relocate here.”

Oliver thought the Airport Authority should encourage passengers with additional destinations and other low-cost carriers, adding services like a parking garage, restaurants and hotels and recruiting more aviation-related businesses to the area.

“The airport (also) needs to focus on health and safety in order to encourage passengers to return at pre-pandemic levels,” Oliver said. “I think that we see there is forward momentum and I’m optimistic that we are going to recover from this.”

2. Candidates were also asked what they thought the biggest struggle would be for PGD.

Oliver said the biggest struggle right now is reduced passenger count, which leads to a lower operating revenue than anticipated during last year’s budget process.

“I propose to maintain our low-cost model,” Oliver said. “I think it is utterly critical so that we can not only maintain Allegiant Air but so we can also help them to expand and help other airlines come here to Punta Gorda.”

Starr said their biggest problem is that the airport is very dependent on grants and financing from the general aviation community.

“As an example, the hangar and tie-down fees are $799,000 per year for everybody out there except Allegiant,” Starr said. “They pay nothing. The low-cost model is being subsidized by the taxpayers, by grants, fees to the people coming in and the general aviation community and that’s the most important thing.”

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