Cocoa Beach will have six candidates running for three seats on the City Commission in the Nov. 8 election.
The winners will be charged with helping oversee the municipality’s operations and budget, along with the two other City Commission members — Mayor Ben Malik and Seat 3 Commissioner Karalyn Woulas, whose terms are not up this year.
Generally, the candidates share a similar vision for Cocoa Beach’s future, and identified the same issue affecting the more than 11,000 residents living in an area known for its tourism.
“The issues are the same issues that have been around in Cocoa Beach since the dawn of Cocoa Beach,” Malik said. “We are a small town that is a family-friendly resort community.”
City commissioners have four-year terms and are paid $6,000 a year.
However, the winner of this year’s election for Seat 2 position will have a two-year term to fill the unexpired term of former Commissioner Ed Martinez, who resigned earlier this year. The remaining commissioners appointed Tim Tumulty to temporarily fill the seat until after the election.
The six vying to be on the City Commission can be categorized into one of two camps — novices with limited experience in local government who hope to bring in new ideas based on their backgrounds, and those who already are connected to the city, understand its inner workings, hoping to translate that into votes.
Commission Seat 2
The race for City Commission Seat 2 features former Cocoa Beach staffer Melissa Huey Byron and entrepreneur Keith Capizzi.
An area resident for more than five decades, Byron has been a fixture within Cocoa Beach government, serving as the director of marketing and communication and the director of the city’s community redevelopment agency.
Aside from that, she was president and chief executive officer of the Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Byron, for the most part, wants Cocoa Beach to continue its current trajectory. She highlighted the construction of a new City Hall, cultural green space, and architectural design and standards as some of the important issues.
“My position from the beginning has been to preserve, protect and provide,” Byron said. “To preserve our neighborhoods, our beaches and our environment. To protect our neighborhoods and our single-family residence. Provide means to provide our citizens with efficient and effective city services.”
She also focuses on regulating short-term rentals.
“Our property values have skyrocketed because of investors coming in and investing in these single-family homes to turn them into short-term rentals.”
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According to Byron, that is creating a safety issue because many are unaware of the rules in Cocoa Beach and are unaware of how of potential hazards when it comes to natural disasters. They are also having an adverse impact on the local revenue base because they are competing with hotels in the area.
Increasing home values also are squeezing residents in terms of housing, increasing rents, and creating an affordable housing issue.
To address that, Byron wants developers to set aside a set number of units for affordable and workforce housing.
Byron wants to regulate short-term rentals. These include registrations, fire inspections and noise abatement, capacity limits, parking, and other regulations to limit the impact of short-term rentals on the city.
The sheer number of short-term rentals creates an issue because more personnel must be available to enforce the rules that Byron is proposing.
“What I had proposed, and the commission picked it up now, we are going to increase the fines, and that goes into a fund for staffing,” Byron said.
She also wants to ensure the City Hall construction projects goes though, establish a cultural green space and that any downtown development retains the architectural standards that have been established. Byron also wants to increase parking by building a garage.
Opposing her is Keith Capizzi, who moved to Cocoa Beach with his parents when he was 4 years old.
“Cocoa Beach is my home,” he said. “It is all I know. I didn’t move away to go to college.”
As a young adult, he began working on tugboats for the Merchant Marines before retiring a couple of years ago.
While Byron who has worked within Cocoa Beach government, Capizzi has no prior affiliation with the city.
His campaign issues include reducing the municipality’s debt burden and ensuring the city’s grounds are managed well.
“I would like to see us do a better job at maintaining city property and city parks,” Capizzi said. “I would like us not to have another parking garage. The city built a parking garage. I was good with that one because that one makes money.”
“The second one is not a good investment because there is someone who is going to be building one right across the street,” Capizzi added. “it would be a waste of money.”
Instead, Capizzi wants to construct a marina to generate revenues for the city. The project would leverage the draw of the ocean. He proposed a partnership with a private entity to construct a restaurant on the site and apply for grants to offset the cost of constructing it.
He wants to retain the city’s current density at the same level and have managed growth, like Byron’s vision for Cocoa Beach.
In terms of building a new City Hall, Capizzi wants to move the city’s operations to the public works building until a new municipal facility is built, saving the city money, instead of taking out a loan. He also wants to increase prices on the golf course to break even to save additional money, instead of putting it into the course.
“I think that may be my advantage, that I am a newcomer, not someone who has been with the city the whole time,” Capizzi said.
Commission Seat 4
In the race for Cocoa Beach Commission Seat 4, incumbent Skip Williams will try to keep his position against a challenge from political newcomer Joshua Jackson.
Williams has been one of the mainstays on the commission, serving as commissioner for the past 15 years. Before that, he was chair of the Waterways and Wildlife Advisory Board for another 15 years.
He currently works as a NASA mission integration operations manager.
“Maybe I could make more progress if I was a commissioner,” Williams said of why he campaigned to be on the commission. “Plus, I wanted to help the city of Cocoa Beach.”
That began his tenure as one of the city’s officials.
“I have been proud that we have kept the city running, keeping the reserves up for contingencies like inflation and natural disasters,” Williams said. “We have been maintaining the atmosphere that is Cocoa Beach.”
Should he continue as commissioner, Williams said he wants to prioritize several initiatives, from public safety to infrastructure.
Williams wants to ensure the utilities are updated and working and that the drinking water is safe. He also wants to make sure roads, sewer, wastewater and stormwater are managed well.
In terms of recreation, he wants to maintain the beaches, parks and golf course along with protecting the environment.
“I continue to work hard for sound financial policy to ensure stable city services for residents and businesses,” Williams said.
Challenging Williams is Joshua Jackson, a launch test range system chief engineer for the U.S. Space Force.
Jackson has some city experience during his time on Cocoa Beach’s Board of Adjustment.
“The longer that I was on the Board of Adjustment, the more I saw that my background in engineering and program management was a skill and an experience that was valuable in the type of activities that the Board of Adjustment and the commission deal with,” he said.
Jackson said his priorities include finding the ways that the tourists who visit the city share in the cost of providing services to host them.
Other priorities include incentivizing employees to save money and identify wasteful spending.
“Within your budget, if you save a $100, I will split it with you,” Jackson said of this plan.
Suppose that a department director saves the Cocoa Beach money through some policy or process change. Jackson wants to split that savings down the middle by having the city keep half of that savings, while increasing the budget of that person’s department by half of the savings amount.
“The city has saved a few bucks, made that director’s life easier, and makes everyone happy,” Jackson said.
It also allows people to find savings opportunities as they are reviewing the books looking for savings.
His third idea includes using city staff to perform work that was previously contracted out.
“How might we pay our city employees to do things in house that we currently contract out of house,” Jackson asked.
He admitted this part of his plan requires more research, but it is another way for the city to save money while paying employees more and expanding their responsibilities.
“I think the main difference between me and my opponent, is that I have a little bit different background and experience, and I bring some fresh ideas,” Jackson said.
Commission Seat 5
The third City Commission contest involves Donald Haynes and Jeremy Hutcherson for Seat 5. Incumbent Mike Miller is not seeking reelection.
Haynes is familiar with development issues in Cocoa Beach after serving on the city’s Board of Adjustment for more than two decades, with 11 years as chair of the board.
“My good friend on the commission who is leaving told me that I should run for the seat,” Haynes said. “I understand how the city runs, because I deal with it as a general contractor. I feel I know more about it than most of the people coming in.”
Haynes wants to address two issues should he be elected to the Cocoa Beach Commission. The first deals with the short-term rentals concern that many of the candidates have highlighted.
“I believe we initially need to ensure licensing and inspections are performed and enforced,” Haynes said.
The second deals with the City Hall construction project. He wants to work to make sure that facility is not overbuilt, that there are sound drawings and project plans while monitoring the budget. Haynes said he is a big supporter of police, fire and stormwater management.
“I prefer we look for ways to be more efficient before we have any increase in taxes,” Haynes said.
Competing against him is Jeremy Hutcherson, who works as a project engineer for a defense contractor.
“I am running for Seat 5 to offer my industry experience solving the most complex engineering problems, to maintain our safe, family-friendly beachside community,” he wrote on his campaign website.
Hutcherson identified many of the same issues as other candidates. He laments the problem that short-term rentals are creating for the community, and wants to manage the different behaviors that are causing the issue, from cars in the street to excess garbage in the yard.
He is also proposing to build a new City Hall near the public works complex and convert the current City Hall property for more land utilization.
“It is my time,” Hutcherson said. “I have the experience. I have no bone to pick with anybody.”
Ralph Chapoco is government and politics watchdog reporter. You can reach Chapoco at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @rchapoco.
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Melissa Huey Byron (Seat 2)
Education: Graduate of Cocoa Beach High School; University of Florida, Bachelor of Science in advertising, with a major in marketing and a minor in management
Political/government/civic experience: Worked for the city of Cocoa Beach as director of marketing and communication, director of Downtown Cocoa Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. Was president/chief executive officer of Cocoa Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce. Graduate of Leadership Brevard. Graduate of U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management.
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Campaign phone number: 321-223-6083
Website, Facebook, other social media pages/links: www.melissaforCB.com
What are the top two to three issues in Cocoa Beach, and what specific actions will you take to address them if elected? I have 4:
1. Ensure that the construction of the new City Hall proceeds on schedule and budget.
2. Make sure cultural green space is adjacent to the new City Hall. The cultural green space was my vision as director of the CRA.
3. Architectural/design standards for new and redevelopment projects. Work with Development Services and the Cocoa Beach’s Planning Board to create these necessary standards.
4. Enforcement of regulations on short-term vacation rentals.
Keith Capizzi (Seat 2)
Occupation: Retired merchant marine engineer
Education: 1992-96: Advanced Training Institute of America
1997-99: Brevard Community College, machinist and metallurgy
2000-02: Maritime Professional Training Academy, 200-ton captain with aux sail, and marine commercial towing
2002: Marine Technical Institute, radio license
2002: Resolve, shipboard firefighting
2003: Maritime Professional Training Academy, able-bodied seaman and marlinespike seamanship courses
2003 Star Center, elementary first aid, proficiency in survival craft, safety and social responsibilities, unlimited radar
2006: Engine room resource management
2007: Upper-level engineering
2010: Welding and metallurgy
2011: Fleet management software
2012: Maritime security
2014: Leadership and management
2015: Advanced firefighting and basic safety training
2019: Radar recertification
2020: City of Cocoa Beach; Citizens Academy
Political/government/civic experience: None
Campaign email: email@example.com
Campaign phone number: 321-271-4520
What are the top two to three issues in Cocoa Beach, and what specific actions will you take to address them if elected? With the city $44 million in debt and rising every year, I’d like to focus more on paying down our debt. I believe we can find creative ways of finding revenue without compromising our small-town feel.
Vacation rentals make up around 35% of all the homes in Cocoa Beach. We need better regulations and enforcement of these types of rentals. No one wants a hotel in their backyard.
Cocoa Beach could do better in regards to maintaining city property. I’d like to keep our city vendors more accountable. Maybe even start a volunteer group where people adopt and maintain sections of the city.
Joshua Jackson (Seat 4)
Occupation: Launch test range system chief engineer, U.S. Space Force
Education: The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.; Master of Science; 2010; major: master of engineering management; focus: technology development
The University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina; bachelor of applied science, 2003; major: chemical engineering
Campaign phone number: 321-323-9058
What are the top two to three issues in Cocoa Beach, and what specific actions will you take to address them if elected? We have some incredible opportunities to increase revenue and decrease costs:
First, policy changes where budget savings are shared within our budget to incentivize city employees to find waste and opportunities within their budget area.
Second, inviting the tourists who visit our city to share the municipality burden using fees associated with the services tourists place a demand on.
Third, review and purposefully steer goods and services procured from outside providers back as opportunities to expand the capabilities of our city employees. Expanding their scope of work, increasing their pay, and saving money overall by keeping it in-house.
Skip Williams (Seat 4)
Occupation: NASA mission integration operations manager
Education: Master’s in engineering management, University of Central Florida, 2013
Bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, Florida Institute of Technology, 1980
Professionally trained leader, manager and planner
Certified project management professional, PMI-PMP
Political/government/civic experience: I have served as a city of Cocoa Beach city commissioner for the past 15 years. Prior, I was chairman of the Waterways and Wildlife Advisory Board for 15 years.
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Campaign phone number: 321-783-1850
Website, Facebook, other social media pages/links: Due to my level of government employment, I am highly discouraged from posting anything on websites or social media.
What are the top two to three issues in Cocoa Beach, and what specific actions will you take to address them if elected? My priorities have always been: police, fire and emergency medical services.
Infrastructure: Utilities, safe drinking water, roads, sewer, waste and stormwater management.
Plus recreation: Our beaches, parks, golf course, pool, tennis courts, skate park, the recreation center and our environment. Air and water quality for us and our plants, animals, birds and fish.
I continue to work hard for sound financial policy to ensure stable city services for residents and businesses;
Height and density standards residents approve; adequate city reserves for contingencies and natural disasters, such as tax fluctuations, inflation and hurricanes; and resident input and approval for sustainable change.
Donald Haynes (Seat 5)
Occupation: State certified general contractor
Education: Graduated from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, high school, 1970
Navy air traffic control school, 1972
Graduated from Florida Tech,1980, Bachelor of Science in aviation
Private pilot license, 1983
Received state certified general contractor license, 1984
Political/government/civic experience: 30-year member of the Cocoa Beach Kiwanis club and served twice as president
Real estate license, 1987
23 years on the Cocoa Beach Board of Adjustment and chairman for the last 11 years
25 years on the board of directors for Freedom 7 Community Center
1992-1993: Member of Brevard County Contractor and Licensing Board
Campaign email: email@example.com
Campaign phone number: 321-604-1209
Website, Facebook, other social media pages/links: www.votedonhaynes.com
What are the top two to three issues in Cocoa Beach, and what specific actions will you take to address them if elected? There are two current issues that need action.
The Airbnb situation needs to be discussed with city staff and the community to ensure it is being managed for the benefit of all residents. I believe we initially need to ensure licensing and inspections are performed and enforced.
As we embark on a new City Hall, I believe it is imperative that we have sound drawings and a project plan to ensure that we do not over build the new city hall. We need to monitor this project to bring it in on schedule and on budget.
I will always support our city police, fire and stormwater management. The city just increased our ad valorem taxes.
I prefer we look for ways to be more efficient before we have any increase in taxes.
Jeremy Hutcherson (Seat 5)
Occupation: Aerospace engineer
Education: Mechanical engineer, Georgia Tech
Master of Business Administration, University of Florida
Political/government/civic experience: None
Campaign email: Hutch4Commisioner5@gmail.com
Campaign phone number: 321-759-6116
Website, Facebook, other social media pages/links: www.VoteHutcherson.com. @HutchForSeat5
What are the top two to three issues in Cocoa Beach, and what specific actions will you take to address them if elected?
Airbnb situation: The growth of short-term rental properties in Cocoa Beach is frustrating for a lot of residents because of continuous tenant turnover in our neighborhoods. We should focus on managing tenant nuisance behaviors (cars in street, excessive garbage in yard, exceeding occupancy limits, off-hours noise) by enforcing short-term rental registration requirements. This will help to ensure landlords are held accountable as a community stakeholder.
New City Hall: Build new, lower-cost City Hall at existing public works complex, and convert current City Hall land for more utilization. (City Hall building is only used during normal business hours.)