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December 27, 2017

With less than a year to go before the election, there has only been a trickle of candidates filing for the two open Monroe County Commission seats.

Two people have filed for the seat currently held by outgoing County Commissioner George Neugent, who said he will not seek another term. Neugent has held the seat that represents Big Coppitt Key to south Marathon for more than 20 years.

Big Coppitt Key Republican and accountant Chuck Weitzel and Ramrod Key resident John Baker, who is running with no party affiliation, have both filed paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections Office to run for the seat held by Neugent, who represents District 2.

Baker is a partner of an insurance agency based in Tampa Bay and works remotely from home, he said.

“At this time, I am not ready to comment on the 2018 elections other than I believe there needs to be major changes in our community’s leadership and I am hopeful our County Commission District 2 and 4 races have as much interest as the Key West mayor race,” Baker wrote in an email to The Citizen on Tuesday.

Weitzel moved to the Keys in 1995 and had worked in the Accounting Department for Keys Energy Services, while doing other accounting work on the side. He left Keys Energy Services and opened his own accounting business roughly 10 years ago, he said.

Weitzel has been active in service groups such as the Masons and Scottish Rite.

“Being an accountant, I bring a very needed skill set to the budget process,” Weitzel said. “Hurricane Irma will have long-term effects on various decisions that will impact our financial future.”

Two others have expressed interest in running.

Sugarloaf Key Bill Hunter said Tuesday he is exploring the option. Hunter has attended almost every County Commission and most budget and other county meetings for nearly 10 years. He regular speaks on development and affordable housing issues. He has served on various county volunteer boards, such as affordable housing advisory committee.

“Should George Neugent choose not to run again, there will be a need to maintain balance on the County Commission,” Hunter said. 

Hunter has been encouraged to run and is listening to residents and business leaders about how commissioners to plan to manage the county in the next five years, he said

“Especially now, after Hurricane Irma has done serious damage to the Lower Keys, it is important for the District 2 seat be filled with someone who understands the county, the cities and the village but especially the people and the issues of the Lower Keys,” Hunter said.

Marathon Councilwoman and current Mayor Michelle Coldiron is also considering running. She has been a staple at County Commission meetings in the past year.

“I have been attending County Commission meetings and doing my homework on county issues,” Coldiron said.

She said she is “extremely interested” in the seat and plans to make an announcement “soon,” she said. If she does chose to run, she still plans to make serving as a Marathon council member her “first priority,” she said. 

No one has filed to run for the seat currently held by Commissioner David Rice. Rice, a Republican, said Tuesday that he plans to run again for the District 4 seat, which represents Marathon through the southern section of Islamorada.

“There is no rush,” Rice said Tuesday. “We have many months to go.”

The Democratic party has yet to put up a candidate for either seat. If another Republican files and qualifies for the District 2 seat, the primary will be closed and only Republicans will be able to vote in that election.

Candidates will qualify to be on the ballot in June and the primary will be held in late August. The non-presidential general election will be Nov. 6.

tohara@keysnews.com

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