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Date of Issue: November 03, 2006

Meaker, Whitmore face off on issues

Candidates for the District 6 at-large seat on the Manatee County Commission faced each other at an Islander candidates forum last week.

Democrat Sarah Meaker is the former president of Trade Routes Ltd., developing United States retail markets for artisans living in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and moved to Manatee County in 2000.

She started a soup kitchen, school and clinic for Guatemalan street children. She currently works for the Manatee County School District, managing a program that certifies professionals who want a second career as a teacher.

Meaker has a bachelor's degree in political science and a doctorate in leadership and education. She has a 6-year-old daughter, and attends Christ Episcopal Church.

Republican Carol Whitmore was elected to the Holmes Beach City Commission in 1991, and elected mayor in 1998, a position she holds today. She was a nurse at Manatee Memorial Hospital and is currently administrator at Parkway Plastic Surgeons, where her husband, Dr. Andre Renard, practices.

She is a graduate of Manatee High School and Manatee Community College. Whitmore has periodically served on the Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, Manatee Opportunity Council, and as a board member on the Anna Maria Island Community Center and Solutions To Avoid Red Tide. She is married and has a grown daughter.

"The position of a county commissioner is to represent the entire county," Meaker said to the question of impacts to Anna Maria Island. She stressed the need of revising the county's comprehensive plan to improve the quality of life for all residents.

"We need to make sure that Holmes Beach is not turned into a parking lot," Whitmore said. She said the entrances to the Island are the entrances to the county's top tourist locations - the beaches - and they have to be protected.

As to the annexation of county property by the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, Meaker said, "It's important that the county manage what it has. The county turned over management to Bradenton [with Perico Island]. I think annexation should be used as a last resort. I want to work together with the cities and work through issues."

"Annexation is usually used by developers finding they can get a better deal with a city than with the county," Whitmore said. "It all deals with relationships, and I hope to see annexations decrease."

Regarding a merger of the county's myriad fire departments, Meaker said she favored looking into the matter. "In the northern part of the county, there are only two emergency medical workers on duty," she said.

Whitmore said "it's a waste of money to not have emergency medical workers and firefighters together. It's a lot more cost-effective to share. Consolidation would be more streamlined."

Both Meaker and Whitmore agreed that county impact fees should be increased, although Whitmore questioned the formula used to determine some of the increases.

As to the increases in taxes and insurance rates in the county, Whitmore said she believed recent "market-driven" property prices should correct themselves in the next few years. "Until the market starts to flatten, we won't see a change in taxes."

Meaker said she believed the county can maintain taxes at a flat level, plus inflation, and said she favored small-business tax relief. "We need to find a way to offer some tax relief, because people are becoming bound to their homes."

Both candidates said they favored a zero-budget approach.

And what is the most critical issue in Manatee County?

Whitmore said she hoped to see a greater respect given to individuals by the county. She also said the No. 1 issues is how the county deals with growth.

Meaker said quality of life was her No. 1 priority. High-paying jobs are important to attract and maintain, she said, as it the need of green space and open spaces.