She’s been a civil rights attorney for the federal government, novelist, investigative consultant and even finalist to be on the TV show “Survivor.”
But Jean Peelen, 59, has never held an elected political position.
“I was never allowed because of my position with the federal government,” she said. “It had been a dream of mine to run and hold a position in the city I live in as another way of giving back.”
Peelen has lived on Anna Maria Island for 3 years – one in Bradenton Beach and more recently in Holmes Beach.
As a civil rights attorney, she specialized in the rights of children with disabilities.
She also became chief of staff of the International Broadcasting Bureau, which oversees all U.S. international broadcasting. She managed a $20 million budget.
About five months ago, Peelen founded the Anna Maria Island chapter of Dining for Women, a women’s giving circle in which women bring dishes for a pot-luck dinner and donate the amount of money they might have spent had they eaten at a restaurant. That money, along with money from the other 155 chapters around the country, is given to benefit causes for women and children.
Peelen said in her spare time, she is a foster mother for Underdog Rescue, caring for dogs until they can be adopted. She also is a member of the Manatee County Animal Services Advisory Board.
Peelen sees a few areas that could improve the quality of life for Holmes Beach residents. For one, she said the city is not having enough say in what goes on at the Manatee Public Beach, citing the county’s decision to award operations of the concessions and gift shop at the beach to United Park Services of Tampa.
“If I’m to find a fault at all about the Holmes Beach city commissioners coming up for election, it’s that they aren’t reaching out to Manatee County. They aren’t attending the meetings in Manatee County and getting to know the county commissioners and county administrator,” Peelen said.
Peelen also would like to see an improved business district on Marina Drive.
Finally, she said she also thinks the city should work more with Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach to get federal grants.
“Right now we have three cities working independently,” she said. “That makes no sense. We are 3 percent of Manatee County and represent 17 percent of income to Manatee County. We as an Island are supposed to be speaking with one voice on every issue we possibly can and I don’t see that happening now.”
RESIDENCY: Holmes Beach
OCCUPATION: Retired, self-employed consultant, writer, model.
OFFICE SOUGHT: Holmes Beach City Commission seat.
FAMILY: Two daughters, seven grandchildren.
INTERESTS: Writing, reading, walking, volunteering.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: National spokesperson, “The Sister Study,” a National Institutes of Health study of the sisters of Women With Breast Cancer; founder, Anna Maria Island Chapter of Dining for Women; member, Manatee County Animal Services Advisory Board, foster mother for Underdog Rescue.
CAMPAIGN MONETARY CONTRIBUTIONS (as of Sept. 15): $1,000.
QUOTE TO LIVE BY: “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.” — George Bernard Shaw
CAMPAIGN MOTTO: “A New Voice for Holmes Beach.”
Peelen takes on incumbents
Holmes Beach resident is running for a Holmes Beach city commission seat in the Nov. 2 election against two incumbents — Sandy Haas-Martens and John Monetti.
An Islander Q & A:
The Islander: Why did you decide to run for office in November?
Jean Peelen: This is the first time I am qualified to run. I wanted to run last year, but had not lived in Holmes Beach long enough. I have always wanted to hold an elective office in the community in which I live.
The Islander: What are your qualifications for this office?
JP: I served as a civil rights attorney for the federal government for many years, specializing in the rights of children with disabilities. I then became the chief of staff of the International Broadcasting Bureau, the bureau that oversees all United States international broadcasting, including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Afghanistan, Radio Free Iraq, Radio Free Asia, and Radio and TV Marti to Cuba. As chief of staff, I managed a $20 milllion budget.
The Islander: What are the three top goals/positions in your platform?
JP: All decisions about our public beach should be made in and by Holmes Beach. The Holmes Beach business district should be beautiful and welcoming. The three island cities should work together on projects, like obtaining grants, that benefit our cities.
The Islander: What is your understanding of Florida’s Sunshine/Public Records laws?
JP: I understand that city officials may not meet together, whether on or off duty, and discuss public business. “Meet together” includes the concepts of telephone and e-mail.
The Islander: From time to time there is talk of consolidating local governments and/or local services. How do you feel about consolidation?
JP: I think it is a worthy and practically impossible goal. Rather than focus on consolidation, the focus needs to be on working together on projects that benefit all three cities without disturbing the structure of any of them.
The Islander: Characterize the direction of the locality. Right track? Off track? Wrong track? Explain.
JP: Holmes Beach is on the right track. Solid financial decisions, well executed. The improvement areas are working far more effectively with Manatee County to affect decisions about Holmes Beach, working more with local business owners to improve the business district and reaching out to the public to clearly explain the budget process and results.
The Islander: Why should voters cast their ballot for you over your opponent?
JP: My two incumbent opponents are fine people who have worked hard for this city. They both have been on the commission for quite a while. I, however, would bring new ideas, new energy and a new voice to the Holmes Beach City Commission.
The Islander: What is the most significant issue facing the electorate at this time? How will you handle that issue?
JP: At the moment the most significant issue is the fact that decisions, such as the Cafe on the Beach decision and the pier decision, get made without a lot of input or effect by Holmes Beach.
Neither of my two incumbent opponents attend regular Manatee County Commission meetings. They do not seek to know and influence the Manatee County commissioners on issues that directly affect Holmes Beach.
Anna Maria Island is 3 percent of Manatee County’s population, yet we support 17 percent of Manatee County’s budget. That economic fact should result in Holmes Beach having far more powerful say in county decisions.
The Islander: Local governments are beginning a new fiscal year. What is your view of the local budget/tax situation? And how do you approach government finances?
JP: The responsibility of this local government is to keep taxes as low as possible and to use our tax money wisely. I think Holmes Beach generally has done that. However, as our economy continues to suffer, and belts have to get tighter, and there is a danger of taxes rising, the current incumbents have not reached out to the community to explain and get input on the city’s financial situation. It is not enough to open a commission meeting or publish an abbreviated version of the budget in the newspapers. Those are legal requirements. The commission members need to actively attempt to reach the community through newsletters, e-mails, requests for input on the budget and on taxes, and public meetings in places less intimidating than the commission chambers.
The Islander: Is there a promise you want to make to voters?
JP: Yes. It will always be my job to protect the safety, well being and money of the citizens of Holmes Beach.