Challenger: Craig F. Ehrnst, Age 52

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1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Your age, how long you have lived in the district, your profession, your family.
As residents of Florida since 1991, my wife and I chose to raise our family in Boca Raton and moved here in 2000. Over several years, I became more involved with our children’s activities by coaching multiple SABR soccer teams. Also, as a YMCA volunteer, I was invited to join the Y Board of Directors, where I led the Finance and Facilities committees and later became Chairperson of the board.
For the past sixteen years, I have served as Treasurer of NCCI Holdings, Inc., an insurance services firm located in Boca Raton with more than 900 employees. Before NCCI, I traveled globally for ExxonMobil and Ryder System in a variety of financial leadership positions.
I became more involved in our community first through my HOA Parkside, serving three terms and facilitating a major community rebuilding effort following Hurricane Wilma. Later, I served as Chairperson for the City of Boca Raton’s Financial Advisory Board. These experiences provided an opportunity to balance the needs of City residents with fiscal responsibility and long-term planning.
2. Why are you running for office?
Following my 2014 candidacy for Boca Raton City Council, I continued to attend the City’s annual long-range goal setting session. During the 2016 session, it became apparent that the City and the District could not agree upon funding and priority of projects on City and District parks. At this goal- setting meeting, the City decided to stop waiting for District funding for a project at Spanish River Park. I will admit that up to this point, I did not understand the District’s taxing authority role, nor the City’s funding dependence. So, I decided to attend a District meeting where I learned that the District was struggling with a new master inter-local agreement, and the District’s desire to provide more input into resident services. At the District meeting, Commissioners discussed hiring new District staff or hiring other third-party vendors to provide park services.
Based on my attendance at both meetings, it became apparent that both parties felt they placed residents’ interests first, but they could not agree upon deliverables. Closer to my home, I realized that the District-City dysfunctional relationship resulted in the closing of the Sugar Sand playground for almost two years. Project planning issues highlighted multiple delays with no party claiming accountability. A similar issue was apparent with the Gumbo Limbo boardwalk and tower, as both the District and the City exchanged blame, and neither took responsibility for delays. At the end of the day, residents lose faith when planning fails. No business would close for over a year to conduct repairs. On a personal note, my youngest son Eric lost the benefit of the remarkable playground during his formative years.
I am running for office to foster a better relationship between the District and the City, to ensure all residents can enjoy our beaches and parks without interruption. I believe better coordination and planning between all parties will enable residents to engage in more sports and more activities on some of our most precious assets.
3. What are the top three issues you want to address in the district if elected?
Three main areas of focus for me will be:
Improving Communication between the District and the City
I believe residents expect the District and the City to work closely together to ensure beaches, parks and recreation services are open. During the past year, neither the District nor the City has agreed upon a mutual inter-local agreement. As a result, conflicting priorities and poor communication have delayed resident access to Countess DeHoernle, Patch Reef and Sugar Sand parks.
Ensuring Sound Fiscal/Corporate Governance
Simply put, this phrase means living within one’s means, using financial resources wisely, and making financial decisions in an open and transparent way. The Palm Beach Inspector General’s office does not oversee this taxing authority. The meetings are not televised, and few people understand the important role the District provides to residents. There are no “term limits” for the five commissioners, who have an average tenure of over ten years. With my experience, I can ensure that major decisions are evaluated with proper financial models and are presented through a collaborative effort that will identify any errors. Finally, I will ask the right questions so that the residents’ financial resources are best utilized.
Creating a Strategic Vision
Boca Raton’s unique and special assets inspire many people to vacation, and retire here. Boca’s expansive beaches, airport accessibility, unique Gumbo Limbo sanctuary, and resort destination need to be carefully nurtured in their growth. This growth requires a special “balance” to ensure it complements the existing environment. The District has a unique role to preserve and protect green space. As the population increases, our natural resources will become more precious. Strategically adding key parcels will provide future generations with an attractive environment.
4. What do you see as the district’s biggest challenge? What do you see as the district’s biggest opportunity?
Biggest Challenges: Creating a timeline to open Sugar Sand playground, finalizing plans for Wildflower property, repurposing Ocean Strand, and completing Gumbo Limbo boardwalk and tower.
Biggest Opportunities: Obtaining additional green space for new parks such as the Ocean Breeze/Boca Teeca or the Mizner Trail golf courses.
5. What is your favorite park?
Our family loves Sugar Sand playground and our beaches. We need to preserve and add to our precious assets.
Going forward, community stakeholders should know that I am a fiscal conservative but concerned about people. Compassion for helping others is a strength within our community that I will always encourage. I will be “fair” in my decisions and seek outcomes that balance the greater good of all the residents, the business community, and our visitors.