Leggette: Buck has to stop somewhere

Lester Leggette will be trying to win the District 3 seat on the Lee County Commission.

Lester Leggette will be trying to win the District 3 seat on the Lee County Commission.

LEESBURG -- Lester Leggette's emergence as a candidate for the Lee County Commission had its genesis when Leggette was a member of the county's Utilities Authority board.

Shortly after the Commission voted to move forward with some $5 million in infrastructure improvements out U.S. Highway 82, a project that Leggette had openly opposed, the anesthetist says he found himself unceremoniously dropped from the board.

"I was in Athens having a lung scan and I got a call from (an Albany Herald reporter) asking if I wanted to comment about being taken off the Authority board," Leggette said. "I felt that because I asked a lot of questions and didn't vote along with the crowd, I was removed from the board."

As the qualifying deadline for the Districts 1 and 3 Commission seats ticked away in late April of this year, Leggette said friends started approaching him about running against incumbent District 3 Commissioner Ed Duffy, the Commission's chairman.

"I'd actually already been thinking about running," Leggette said. "And when I started getting all this encouragement from people in the community, I started thinking seriously about it. I prayed about it, talked with my family, and the answer I kept coming up with was yes."

The first-time candidate said his decision to take on Duffy is not a personal one, but Leggette said the "passion" he feels for issues that impact the community have spurred him to work hard to unseat the Commission's chairman.

"Most of these issues didn't happen overnight," Leggette said, "but a lot of them did. Mr. Duffy is the chairman, and the buck has to stop somewhere. For instance, the debt of the Utilities Authority grew over a period of time, but the recent refinancing happened during this watch. And even if we save money in the short-term, the way I see it we're going to spend more in the long-term.

"It seems this board is following the federal government's 'get it today, pay later' way of doing things. We need to pay as we go. Sure, I may not end up paying for these things, but I don't want to pass the debt on to my children."

Leggette said the Commission's refinancing of some $22 million in Utilities Authority debt would end up costing the county more money over the course of the bonds issued to secure the debt, and he said the entire repayment of the debt is being left up to the "5,000 customers of the Utilities Authority."

"(The refinancing) was done to help the entire county, but less than 20 percent of the county's population -- the 5,000 people serviced by the Utilities Authority -- are going to end up paying for it," Leggette said. "That's hard to swallow."

The candidate said he's also concerned about inadequate fire, EMS and law enforcement protection in the county, about the current Commission's lack of fiscal responsibility, about the poor design of the 82 sewer extension that limits customer usage, the county's bidding process that he says does not favor local companies, the construction of a library/conference center off 82 and the county's ownership of the Grand Island golf course.

The latter two issues have led to a great deal of debate in the county.

"Mr. Duffy has been quoted as saying the library/conference center will be the linchpin for development of the Oakland development, but I wonder why we're more concerned about one development over the other," Leggette said. "Why are we concerned with spending so much money there?

"I also have a poll on my website that asks the question: Should we keep or sell Grand Island? The poll is running 2-to-1 for selling. It really should be a simple matter; we should ask if the golf course is making money. If it isn't, we should sell it."

But Leggette said the bottom line of his candidacy is the wishes of the citizens of the Palmyra District.

"We have a representative form of government," he said. "An elected official's personal views of what should or shouldn't be done must take a back seat to those he represents. I want people to vote for me because I will look at the wishes of the constituents and do what I deem is best for the majority of the people I represent."