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Residents forming watchdog group

(ran Beach, West editions)

The Treasure Island group plans to help keep residents informed by providing Internet access to commissioners' voting records, hosting a debate and taking surveys on "hot issues."

Concerned that some city issues are decided before residents get a chance to react, a group of residents has formed a watchdog group.

Treasure Island Voters Watch, which is open to voters and non-voters on the island, was organized July 28 during an initial meeting at the Sunset Beach Cafe.

The group of 18 residents doesn't have a slate of officers yet, but it does have an ambitious agenda.

Providing Internet access to commissioners' agendas and voting records, hosting a debate for the 2000 city election, getting the debates and the commission meetings on cable television and taking regular surveys to see how residents feel about "hot issues" are among the projects planned.

"Sometimes issues come before the commission that they take very quick turnaround action on and there are times that you sure would like to know about that," said Trish Keiffer, founder of the group.

The Isle of Capri resident said she first became interested in local politics earlier this year when city commissioners were considering the purchase of an old cracker house on Lagoon Lane.

"I just had some strong feelings about the city going into the real estate business," she said. Commissioners ultimately decided not to buy the property.

In the meantime, Keiffer said she spoke with her former commissioner, George Makrauer, about joining a local voters league.

Makrauer said the city didn't have such a group and suggested she form one.

"The idea took on a mind of its own and it just would not stop," Keiffer said. "Every time we mentioned it to people, they got excited."

Keiffer, who with her husband, Donald, operates the National Hay Association headquarters from a downtown office, said the group plans to inform residents about issues rather than take positions on ideas.

"We want to get a lot of information on issues and let our members make their own decisions," she said.

"I understand their concerns and I think that whatever they can do to get more information out is great," said City Commissioner Mary Maloof. "I think there are a lot of people that haven't a clue as to what's going on."

Maloof said the city's quarterly newsletter and notices on local bulletin boards are not enough to inform the voters about important issues.

All Treasure Island residents are invited to join the organization for $10 a year. Meetings are scheduled the fourth Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Treasure Island Community Center, One Park Place. The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 25.

Interested residents can contact Keiffer at 360-6753 or send an e-mail message to the new league at TIVWyahoo.com.

"This is the public at work," said Makrauer, who said he joined the group to support his friends and neighbors. "There is absolutely no political interest of mine in this," he added.

Makrauer said the residents "just want to become more aware of the political process, public policy issues and community needs."

"It is not because they are dissatisfied with the commission and it is not because they are dissatisfied with the city _ they love it here," he said.

"Politics on Treasure Island is really very interesting," Keiffer said. "Some interesting things happen and we have some really interesting characters."

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