The campaign season for Island candidates seeking to fill city commission seats in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria up for election Nov. 8 got under way Sept. 17 with the Manatee County League of Women Voters and The Islander forum at the Island Branch Library.
Candidates from both Holmes Beach and Anna Maria were given the opportunity to present their views on issues, provide personal background and answer questions from the audience and forum moderator Rosalie Shaffer of the league.
Although no seats are contested in Bradenton Beach, incumbent Commissioner Gay Breuler and Mayor-elect John Shaughnessy also spoke to the audience.
Three commission seats are up for election Nov. 8 with incumbent Commissioners Dale Woodland and John Quam facing a challenge from political newcomer Nancy Yetter and former Mayor SueLynn in the race. And although Quam had replied to the LWV that he would attend the forum, he did not appear.
Ex-Mayor SueLynn said that she served on the city’s transportation enhancement grant committee and City Pier Centennial Committee after leaving office in 2006.
She has stayed “on top” of the issues in Anna Maria and is running for a commission seat because she’s concerned with a number of changes in the city the past five years.
“Outside forces are determining what’s taking place in our city,” SueLynn said, and these forces appear to be more interested in tourism than in the residential character of the city.
Woodland, who grew up on Anna Maria Island, said he is seeking another term to continue the work that he’s done since first being elected to the commission.
He first became involved with the city in the early 1990s when he headed a committee to dredge the Lake LaVista channel. The permit was issued in 1993 and is still in use by the city.
As a commissioner, he has helped draft the 2007 comprehensive plan, initiated the stormwater drainage fee that provides revenue for drainage issues, and worked to create the present public parking system at the city’s beach access points and along Pine Avenue.
Yetter is a member of the planning and zoning board and took that position upon nomination by Mayor Mike Selby after her husband resigned from the board.
She said she’s always been “pro-active” and willing to give something back to the city where she lives
Her intent as a commissioner is to “respect and protect the village atmosphere of Anna Maria,” while at the same time facing the issue of taxes, something every city across the country is facing these days.
Yetter supports the purchase of the six lots across from the city pier and favors using the area for green space, although she does not yet have a firm idea of how best to use the space. She suggested the city consider a cell tower as a revenue stream, possibly on the six lots.
Woodland and SueLynn agreed that the six lots should be used for green space, but not empty green space.
SueLynn said the “outside force” influencing Anna Maria is the travel industry, which appears to be marketing the city successfully to increase visitor traffic. The problem, she said, is that more visitors mean a greater impact to the city’s infrastructure.
“I’m not saying it’s good or bad, right or wrong, but we need to manage it,” she said.
Anna Maria resident George Barford asked the candidates if they consider it “proper” for the city to accept an offer from an anonymous donor to pay to cut down Australian pines on city property. Barford said the “rumor” in the city is that a Holmes Beach builder has plans to develop the area near the pine trees.
Woodland said “anonymous” donors don’t matter, but the decision to remove the pines or not should be based on what the community wants, not one person.
Yetter said a lot of information circulating about Australian pines might not be true. She does believe the pines provide “a beauty to the Island.” Any decision to remove them should be up to the community, she said.
The candidates also shared varying views on the addition of a cell tower in the city.
SueLynn was mayor when the current cell tower ordinance was passed in 2003 and no company has yet to apply for a permit. But she believes the day is coming when cell service will dominate the communications industry.
Woodland replied that no company has made application because there’s not enough revenue in Anna Maria for a cell tower. That will change in the near future, he predicted, and the city should let the industry decide when it’s ready for an application.
Yetter suggested a cell tower on the recently purchased lots across from the city pier might provide a revenue stream to help pay for that purchase.
All three candidates stated opposition to a 65-foot-high-rise bridge to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge, and believe a compromise height for a mid-level bridge would be sufficient.
The candidates for the three seats up for election Nov. 8 are incumbent Commissioners Pat Morton, David Zaccagnino and Al Robertson and the challengers are Jean Peelen and Andy Sheridan. Sheridan gave notice he could not attend, while Robinson RSVP’d the LWV but did not attend the forum.
The No. 1 issue emerging from the candidates was development, particularly development of large multi-bedroom visitor accommodations in residential neighborhoods.
Morton said developers have found a loophole in the city code allowing them to tear down older properties and build large rental homes with six or more bedrooms.
“The big rental houses are coming. We can’t stop it, but we can put parameters on it,” Morton said.
The whole issue is driven by tourism, he said.
Peelen is a retired civil rights attorney who was unsuccessful in her first campaign for the commission.
But she’s adamant in her desire to “give back to the community.”
Her major concern is that the interest of the residents is taking a back seat to tourism.
The current commission has “done a great job” with handling the city’s revenue and budgets, but she wants the city to be “pro-active” against the push for more rental properties.
Zaccagnino also said growth issues would be a major focus of the future commission.
“Let’s refocus on what’s happening in our city,” he said and examine how to limit the proliferation of rental properties.
He also wants the Manatee County Tourist Development Council to return more funds to the city.
“Too much tax goes off-Island and is not returned to the city. We only get back about 10 percent of the taxes we pay,” he said.
The candidates were in favor of the city’s police department and had little to no interest in pursuing law enforcement services from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Robinson, who was not present, has often said the department costs the city too much money.
Zaccagnino said the police department is” not a huge budgetary issue.” If it were, he would favor looking at alternatives or reducing its size.
He indicated that he favors looking at consolidation of services with other Island cities, including trash pickup and building department services.
Morton agreed. “Citizens like the police department,” he said.
The numbers produced by Robinson about the department are “funny numbers” that do not reflect reality, Morton noted.
Peelen said the overall cost of the department is not too much money for what the city gets, but she was surprised to learn the pension Chief Jay Romine will get when he retires.
“I won’t know enough of the details until I am elected,” she said, “but we do need to look at incoming salaries. They are great officers. I don’t agree with the tactics used by the commissioner (Robinson), who is not here, but I don’t disagree with some of his basic points.”
All three candidates favored the city taking control of the concession at the Manatee Public Beach. There is a lot of revenue involved, and the city does not seem to be getting a fair share. Annexation should be addressed, Zaccagnino said.
The Islander will present candidate profiles for each Island city beginning in the Oct. 5 edition.