Here are questions from various organizations and the answer.
What would be your top three priorities in the upcoming term?
My first priority is the need to focus on job creation. We need to use our Port as a catalyst to spur new economic activity, as well as building on our other proven economies; Agriculture, Tourism, Retirees, and Sports Economics. Second is the need to increase our taxable values by helping our existing urban areas. The focus on new construction sometimes hurts our existing urban areas. Urban redevelopment and shoring up our older communities is a priority for me. By doing this, our communities will be uplifted; bringing values up which also reduces crime and social distress. Third, is keeping a focus on Public Safety. I am promoting a regional approach to Public Safety in order to reduce costs, and insure we have the best programs to deal with these challenging times. By working on a regional approach we will be able to achieve better results and I am willing to lead this effort.
Assess the performance of the county administrator?
The county administrator has done a great job in guiding the County during these challenging times. Our local government was forced to respond to depressed economic conditions which included a reduction in over $80 million of yearly revenue. The Administrator took policy direction from the Commissioners and reduced the size of government. By allowing people to do their jobs and hold them accountable, the County is more efficient. He led a strategy for economic incentives which were approved by the Commissioners to diversify our local economy and continue to increase jobs. I also share with the Administrator my historical knowledge on County issues that help develop policy.
Assess the performance of the county attorney?
The new County attorney hit the ground running when he was hired earlier this year. He is an honest person that has the ability to provide the quality legal representation, handling a diverse range of legal issues.
What do you think about the county’s policies on economic development and its performance in that realm?
The County has attracted 5,000 new jobs with its new economic policies. I initiated; “The Port Encouragement Zone” which uses Port Manatee as a catalyst to attract new business. To encourage businesses to locate around Port Manatee, the County has committed to process land use approvals, including permits in 90 days or less. As the closest Port in our State to the Panama Canal and with the most vacant adjacent land to any Port in the State, we are in a strategic position to attract new businesses to our County and the Region. This plan has already produced new business. The County has recently partnered with the Economic Development Council in our efforts to expand our sport economy. In the past, our economy was driven too much by new construction. My goal is to diversify our economy and continue to build on our base of economic engines such as agriculture, retirees, tourism, sports, Port Manatee, which will provide the best future for our children.
Can you identify up to three potential ways to achieve efficiencies and/or cost savings through county collaboration with other local governments?
I am promoting a regional approach to Public Safety in order to reduce costs, and insure we have the best programs to deal with these challenging times. I have a great working relationship with Sarasota and can bring my experience to pull together this regional concept; saving taxes and providing better services. As an example, the regional traffic management center is an effort I suggested and helped implement. This will coordinate the traffic signals at one location versus five government locations; saving money and improving driver travel times. The radio system we use for law enforcement and other government services should be the next joint effort. Both Counties need to upgrade their radio systems. A regional radio system will also allow a seamless transition for our emergency responders crossing county and city lines. From our jails to alternative sentencing programs a regional approach will increase efficiencies.
The county lowered impact fees, in partial response to the recession and housing market. Should those fees be raised to past levels, kept the same or lowered further? Why?
The County recently updated impact fees based on a new study. The impact fees are at 100% of the estimated cost of infrastructure needed for development. I support the goals of having development pay for the infrastructure needed for growth so the existing tax payers do not have the burden of paying these costs. Some developers try to reduce the cost of impact fees so they make more profit. I have always voted to implement impact fees as a way to insure we can pay for the infrastructure needed for growth. The school board voted to recommend the elimination of impact fees for new schools. I voted against this recommendation because of the additional cost it will have on existing taxpayers. Developers and their representatives seek to shift their cost to taxpayers. Growth needs to pay its own way and impact fees are necessary to insure developers and not taxpayers cover these expenses.
What do you foresee as the future of Port Manatee and its ability to compete with the Port of Tampa?
Port Manatee has the best location and adjacent infrastructure than any Port in the State. For example; Port Manatee is located closer to the Gulf of Mexico than Tampa, saving 8 hours of travel time to the shipper. This has the potential to save almost a million dollars a year for a weekly service. Tampa has congested road corridors, Port Manatee has none. I initiated the Port connector road to the interstate insuring we do not have problems in the future with congestion. We also have the most vacant land adjacent to any Port in the State. Each port has strengths and weaknesses. Port Manatee has more strengths than weaknesses. I also led the way to reduce bureaucracy so approvals on the vacant land can take place within 90 days. Port Manatee will be the port of choice and grow to be one of the largest container ports in the State. We already are the largest importer of several products so what we are doing is working, Why change course?
What should be a county commissioner’s proper role in relation to the county administrator and staff? Should a commissioner be strictly one of seven policymakers or take a more hands-on role in managing the government?
County Commissioners are the policy makers; however they should also research the facts. Commissioners oversee a vast range of County services and set policy on issues that have a direct impact on the citizens we serve. As a commissioner I work hard to insure I have the facts necessary to reach the best decision for our community. I will not be just a “rubber stamp”. The discussion should take place in public, and the County Administrator should take direction from the board. As an elected official it is my job to represent the people in this community. I expect the County Administrator to carry out the policy that is in the best interest of the people.
Should the county move ahead, at its expense, with construction of a bridge between Fort Hamer Road and Upper Manatee River Road?
Yes, the bridge is needed for a community connector. However, the concerns of the communities surrounding the bridge and connector roads need to be addressed. These concerns include insuring the existing roads are up to standards. I have given my commitment to work with the community to address their concerns, and minimize the impacts of this new connector road. The money to build the bridge is primarily funded by impact fees, and must be used only for road improvements. The cost of the bridge should be at the expense of new development since it is needed for the growth that will occur in the eastern part of the county.
The sheriff has said that his office is losing deputies to other departments because of a lack of money to fund raises for employees. What should be the County Commission’s response?
The County needs to be sensitive to the concerns of the sheriff and the loss of deputies. As a commissioner I value the work of the deputies and other public safety providers such as EMS. I support a plan to retain these valuable employees in our community so our safety will not be threatened. We all would feel more comfortable calling that 911 responder who has worked in our community for a while. As a Commissioner I will work with the sheriff to refine his needs and develop a solution to retain our deputies. I am optimistic a solution can be reached. My top priority as a commissioner is public safety.
What would you change to make the county more business-friendly to create jobs?
Since the economy slowed down we reorganized the County departments to be a leader in delivering business-friendly services. We offer a rapid response team that works with new and existing businesses to insure there are no obstacles that we as the government cause to impede their plans. The personalized services get compliments from businesses on how well we work with businesses. The County has a slogan “Jobs Now!” to enforce our culture of creating jobs and treat everyone as a customer. As a commissioner I take a personal interest in guiding policies to insure we are business friendly. We have good employees that make this happen every day. It is our priority to create jobs and so far over 5,000 jobs will be created from our economic incentives and our business-friendly services.
What is the best way to manage growth, particularly in East County?
I have led the way to insure our infrastructure is ready for growth. Serving on the MPO (a regional transportation board with Sarasota) I established a business plan to improve SR70 and SR64 to handle the growth at acceptable levels of service. I also brought together the School Board and SMR to build the Lakewood Ranch Park. We developed a public private partnership and allowed for a shared use of facilities to save money. There are good plans already in place such as our Comprehensive Plan and Development Plans for subdivisions that offer quality growth without destroying the environment we respect. Years ago it was a challenge to keep up with growth but due to moderate growth now forecast for East County we are ready to provide the services. We will work closer with the community to show what tools guide future growth and how we have the ability to accommodate it. As we work with the community we can adjust the plan to conform to goals the community wants. My goal is to always protect the quality of life for our existing residents and keep Manatee County as a place they will always call home.
What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
I will represent the people first. I am a proven leader, and have a dedication and commitment that is proven. My opponent represents developers. As a Commissioner I can be trusted with preserving your quality of life. At a time when politicians are not willing to lead, I lead. My experience in the Marine Corps taught me lessons that I use in my role as a County Commissioner. As a successful business owner since I was 24 years old I have experience that brings a skill level few have. I love this County and my Country. I enjoy boating, fishing and kayak along our preserves. When some want to destroy our natural beauty I stand to protect it, since once it is lost it can never be restored. We have a sense of community that is worth fighting for and that is what I will do better. I will continue to fight to keep Manatee County a great place to live.
Any other thoughts/comments?
I am proud to offer some positive news about our County. We are in great financial shape. During the time when revenues escalated, I fought for a conservative policy that spent half of our new revenue on recurring expenses and the other half on one time expenditures. We built new parks, roads, a judicial center, and a much needed Emergency Operation Center. Manatee County is a leader in innovative health care; investing in preventive programs which have saved money, lives and allow our employees to live a healthier life.
When the financial crisis hit, we fine-tuned our departments. Today our employees are working harder and smarter. Our citizens have seen taxes reduced by over $80 million a year. We have a balanced budget. Unemployment is finally going down, 5,000 new jobs will be created from our economic incentives. Port Manatee completed the dredging for our new Berth 12. Home sales have increased. Tourism set a new record high this year. Our bays are the healthiest since the 1950’s. Our air is cleaner now that the power plants switched to natural gas. Crime is down. There is hope and optimism.
I know there are many challenges, but with each challenge comes an opportunity. My goal is to keep Manatee County a place we always want to call home.
I am asking for your confidence, and your vote.