For the past several general elections, the village has had televised debates, forums that allowed candidates to discuss the issues while giving voters a chance to see their political contenders in action.
That didn’t happen, however, in the March election. The issue of who’ll take the lead in organizing them will arise at Thursday’s Village Council meeting.
The League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County conducted the last televised candidate forum in the village in 2011. It also has conducted other debates for the village before then, all of which have been televised on the village’s Channel 18.
It’s not clear why a televised debate didn’t happen this year. Village Manager Ray Liggins said the league always took the lead on the forums but didn’t this year because of a policy change.
Liggins said the village was told by the League it was understaffed.
“In this past election, the League of Women Voters didn’t take the initiative to notify the candidates and request that they participate in a forum,” Liggins said.
But Mary Jane Range, chairwoman of the candidate forums, disputed that claim, saying the league doesn’t have a staffing problem and that it was waiting for the village to take the initiative — a procedure change village officials said they weren’t told about.
“We respond to requests from groups or municipalities to conduct candidate forums,” Range said. “We don’t sponsor them.”
The League provides a moderator, questions reviewers and ushers for the forums.
The issue of who will take the lead on future forums is scheduled to be discussed at Thursday’s council meeting.
Councilman David Swift, who ran against then incumbent Martha Webster in the March election, said he was disappointed he wasn’t able to debate the issues against Webster.
“As a challenger, you’re kind of in a different spot than the incumbent, who is on TV all the time,” Swift said. “You’d like to have some face time with your public. I really wanted to debate the issues because my opponent and I differed significantly.”
Swift, a 20-year council member, also said while the League does a good job of conducting the forums, he said they’re not as substantive as he would like them to be.
“The members don’t live (in the village) and don’t know the issues very well,” Swift said. “When people in the audience have questions, they don’t know if it’s a legitimate question or if it’s a loaded question. So you don’t get a very in-depth debate.”
Swift said by Nov. 1 he would like the village to request bids for a group or organization to run the debates. His suggestion for moderator: Jim Sackett, the former WPTV-Channel 5 News anchor.
“He’s a well-known personality and people would tune in,” Swift said.
But Councilman Fred Pinto said the village must tread carefully if it decided to entertain bids from groups interested in hosting candidate forums.
“We don’t want this to become a politically motivated thing,” he said.