By Kevin Vaccianna
Voters in the Palm Bay area were offered a stark choice between the candidates running for the fourth City Council position during what was meant to be a debate on the issues on Wednesday: deputy mayor Kenny Johnson and an empty seat.
What was meant to be a debate between Mr. Johnson and his opponent Nathan White on Wednesday evening, October 26, turned into more of a discussion as Mr. White opted at the last minute not to attend, after being interviewed on Tuesday.
The moderators adapted to the situation and stuck to the pre-written questions they had prepared for Mr. Johnson, while also allowing audience participation as the evening went on.
Mr. White opted instead to answer questions during a Facebook Live presentation that occurred at 6 pm on Thursday evening. Mr. White’s platform revolves around ending what he sees as government waste and restoring trust between the citizenry and the council itself, following what he characterized as some shady dealings between the government and contractors over the previous four years. He mentioned providing additional funding for first responders and ensuring that Palm Bay’s infrastructure could handle the city’s growth, namely the roads.
Offering clarification on his last-minute decision to forgo the debate, Mr. White pointed to what he felt was a conflict of interest, in that he’d heard David Jones, one of the moderators, and the deputy mayor were friends, and that there was a potential for an “ambush” of sorts.
During Mr. Johnson’s pre-debate interview and at the quasi-debate itself, the deputy mayor pointed to what he considers the accomplishments he and the council have achieved in the previous four years. Updating the badly outdated Palm Bay comprehensive plan, providing additional material support for police and firefighters, and ensuring current and future development don’t negatively impact families and residents in their neighborhoods were among the successes Mr. Johnson listed
Mr. Johnson also touted his ability to communicate across all levers of the local government apparatus, mentioning time and again the budget’s aim to maintain current employees and attract new talent to the ranks, while also stating he believed the package could go further to financially incentivize the city’s workforce. He also touted the “innovative ideas” being discussed on the development front, particularly with areas of the waterfront due for renovations.
In many instances, the candidates spoke of similar issues while highlighting similar difficulties. What to spend money on, and whose money to spend, appear to be the central questions as the campaign draws to a close.