Seven in running for Clewiston City Commission

CLEWISTON — Seven candidates are on the Nov. 6 ballot for three seats on the Clewiston City Commission. The two who receive the highest vote totals will be elected for four-year terms; the candidate finishing third will serve a two-year term.

Incumbent City Commissioners M. “Mali” Soto Gardner, Kristine Petersen and Phillip Roland are challenged by Kevin McCarthy, Melanie McGahee, James L. (Jimmy) Pittman and Lance “Bubba” Ramer.

The following biographies either were written by the candidates, taken from their respective Facebook pages, based on phone conversations or compiled from statements made at the forum conducted Thursday, Oct. 18, by the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce at the John Boy Auditorium.

Mali Gardner

Mali Gardner: Ms. Gardner first ran for the commission in 1999 and has served as mayor twice, from 2001 until 2010 and, presently, since 2016. She’s a member of the Hendry County Tourism Development Council and a vice president of First Bank, where she has worked since 1979. Mayor Gardner has lived in Clewiston since her family fled the Communist regime in Cuba in 1961, and has served the community in several positions, including currently as co-chairwoman of the Hendry/Glades 2019 United Way Campaign. “Growing up in Clewiston afforded my family many opportunities in realizing the American Dream. I am grateful for this blessing, and it is what motivated me to run,” she said. “I have … not wavered in my commitment to the work of public service. During the recession and its aftermath, the goal has been to sustain the community’s assets for the next generation. Realizing that not everyone will agree with every decision made, I hope that we can agree that Clewiston’s best days are ahead! There is continued work that must be done, and my public service experience has prepared me to help make the right decisions for Clewiston’s future.”

Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy: “I was born and raised in Clewiston, graduated from Clewiston High School, then attended Villanova University. I moved back to Clewiston in 1987 and have been an involved member of the community and a volunteer firefighter ever since. My wife of 30 years is a pediatric nurse practitioner who has worked at Forbes Family Care Center for over 15 years and has been very involved in youth programs within the community. My two children, Kristi Pena and Robby McCarthy, are also Clewiston residents. They are both coaches with AYSO Soccer when they’re not serving their community as a nurse practitioner and firefighter/paramedic, respectively. I believe that I should give back to the community where I was raised, where I raised my children and where my children are raising my grandchildren.”

Melanie McGahee

Melanie McGahee: “I am a Clewiston native, born in Clewiston to Peggy Knowles McGahee and the late Butch McGahee. I grew up in a large family with five siblings who were all raised here and educated in the Hendry County public school system. I earned an accounting degree from Florida Atlantic University, and a law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston, passed both the Texas and Florida bar exams and am admitted to practice in both states. I am a partner with the law firm of McGahee & Perez, and I am also an owner of Everglades Abstract & Title Co. I know that the problems that plague the City of Clewiston are not new. They did not originate with our current commission. They have existed for a long time. I have grown tired of talking about the problems in the city and not being able to do anything about it. I am ready to do something. I do not want to settle for mediocrity. I do not want to maintain the status quo. I believe we, Clewiston, can do better.”

Kristine Petersen

Kristine Petersen: A teacher in Clewiston High School’s Public Safety Academy and a resident of Hendry County for more than 30 years, Commissioner Petersen was appointed to her seat in April 2014, then won a four-year term in her first election that fall. She is a law enforcement professional who worked for the city for 13 years previously and also serves on the Chamber of Commerce board. Saying that she’s a fair and impartial consensus-builder, Ms. Petersen stated: “I would like to remain on the City Commission, keeping a fresh, conservative perspective on city issues. I will continue to focus on maintaining and improving our outdoor assets, enhancing family activities and providing the services, infrastructure and leadership to maintain and improve our quality of life, and to have the City of Clewiston be sensitive to its employees’ welfare and concern. It is important that we continue to grow our small business community, the very backbone of our city: That will entail making sure our zoning is realigned, support services are in place for small business efforts and the relationship with the chamber is robust. The “Downtown” plan should be re-evaluated (and) aligned to current needs. We heard the community concerns about the paving and implemented a progressive plan to remedy the situation. We continue to improve fiscal health, infrastructure and our flow of communication. These issues are important to all of us and I would like the opportunity to keep working to make positive changes.”

Jimmy Pittman

Jimmy Pittman: Born and raised in Clewiston, Mr. Pittman has been a volunteer firefighter for the city for 27 years and business owner in town with his wife, Paula, for 32 years. The couple has three children. He served on the commission from 1997 to 2014 and has also served as mayor. “Clewiston has been very good to Jimmy Pittman and his family,” he said at the chamber forum. “I believe Clewiston is on the upswing, and it’s a great place to be and a great place to live.” Asked why he’s running again, he said, “I love our small town and this community and, just as I did before, I desire to take part in making it even better. I want to create positive, sustainable growth and increase commerce to expand our tax base so that we can continue to improve our infrastructure and revitalize older parts of the community. I will provide vision and positive leadership while bringing accountability and transparency to our city. I am committed to finding ways to cut costs and decrease the debt of our city with innovative ideas and hard work.”

Lance Ramer

Lance Ramer: A resident of Clewiston since 1987, Mr. Ramer said, “I quickly ingrained myself into the community by offering my time and energy in many civic, philanthropic and volunteer service organizations, many of which I am still actively involved in, 31 years later. I’ve raised three children as a single parent during this time and could not be any more proud of them. I have 24 years of leadership experience in public, private, nonprofit and governmental organizations that I will bring to the position of city commissioner. I believe that the City of Clewiston must develop a clear, cohesive and comprehensive vision in order to be successful.” He also pledged to “provide 100 percent transparency on all issues; open communication; open-mindedness; a common-sense approach to problem-solving — proactive, not reactive; complete follow-through of tasks; and initiate SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable and Timely) as the foundation in which to build a better community for our residents and guests. I believe the best is yet to come for the City of Clewiston and we need to begin our preparations now for its success, or we will find ourselves behind the progress trying to keep up,” Mr. Ramer wrote.

Phillip Roland

Phillip Roland: Born in Clewiston, the city commissioner seeking re-election to a third term is a retiree, an Air Force veteran and served as a Hendry County commissioner from 1974 until ’94. First elected when he was 33, Mr. Roland was board chairman for 13 years. He won a two-year city commission term in 2012 and was re-elected for a four-year term in 2014. As to why he’s running again at age 77, he explained: “It’s just a thing of being involved. I tell everybody, I’m certainly concerned about the infrastructure of the city, and the roads, and that we’ve got to keep the infrastructure up. And, you know, I’ve been a ‘lake person.’ I’m the only lake person on the commission, and I don’t know of another lake person that’s ever been on the commission until I was elected. And it is our lifeblood for tourism. The city should absolutely do more to capitalize on it. We need to advertise, and the Tourism Development Council is backing some tournaments and stuff that we need to market ourselves on the lake. I have encouraged that since I’ve been on the commission, but it’s been tough. When I took office, the city was basically broke, and I served four years as mayor, and actually we were getting our feet on the ground to be a solid city. We have continued to get more monies put in reserves the last two years, and we will continue. The city is on a good path financially now, and certainly there are people out there who say we’re not, but the auditor said this year that we had gone over the hump, that we were in good shape.”

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