The hope for the new year was a full board of commissioners for the city of Bradenton Beach, but that did not come about at the Jan. 5 city commission meeting.
The final seat on the commission has been vacant since the November election, when former Commissioner Janie Robertson had to step down due to a mandated term limit. No one ran for her Ward 3 seat, leaving the appointment of a new commissioner up to the mayor and commissioners.
After weeks of trying to find a willing applicant, two candidates came forward and both attended the Jan. 5 meeting to see if they would be nominated. Both left disappointed.
Mayor John Shaughnessy nominated Richard Gatehouse to be Ward 3 commissioner and Commissioner Jan Vosburgh seconded the nomination. Vosburgh and city attorney Ricinda Perry thanked Gatehouse for seeking the nomination without acknowledging the second applicant.
Commissioner Gay Breuler moved to appoint Gatehouse, but a request to speak from the public was granted by Shaughnessy before the motion was seconded. The mayor had not yet allowed public comment on the topic.
Jo Ann Meilner, president of the Bridge Street Merchants Association took the podium to recommend John “Scooter” Tillison for the seat. She said many of the merchants on Bridge Street support the appointment of Tillison.
She opposed the appointment of Gatehouse, who has worked on the website for the city for several years under a contractual arrangement. Meilner pointed out a possible conflict of interest.
She read a Florida statute to the commission that she claimed would prohibit the appointment of Gatehouse.
“State statutes show no public employee can hold a public office of which he is a contractor or employee,” said Meilner. “I don’t know why you would appoint a commissioner when I think there will be a conflict.”
Meilner instead touted the experience of Tillison.
Shaughnessy said Gatehouse was his nomination because he submitted a full resume, while Tillison only submitted a letter with references, “and most of them don’t even live here,” said Shaughnessy.
“As far as Mr. Gatehouse goes, he can recuse himself if there is a conflict with city business and the website,” he said.
Breuler continued her motion to appoint Gatehouse, but the motion died for a lack of a second. Vosburgh was planning to go forward with her approval, but cited her concerns over the state statutes.
Turning to Gatehouse, she said, “I think you are very qualified for the job, but if what (Meilner) says is true, why can’t you just resign your position with the website?”
Gatehouse said he did not believe there was a conflict of interest and did not address the request to resign his contract for web services.
Vice Mayor Ed Straight said he could not move forward with a vote without understanding the legalities of the potential conflict.
“I still question whether it’s legal or not,” Straight said. “I need a ruling from our attorney before voting on it.”
Perry advised the commission to continue the appointment to the Jan. 19 meeting agenda to allow her to look into the potential conflict.
Perry then reminded the board that a second candidate existed and asked the commissioners if they would like to make another nomination, although was no nomination was made.
Gatehouse reiterated to The Islander following the meeting, that he did not believe a conflict of interest was an issue.
“I still don’t feel as though there is a conflict of interest,” he said. “As long as I recuse myself from anything that has to do with the website, then I don’t see a problem. I’ve been the webmaster since its inception in 2004 and have sat on other city boards in the interim.”
Those seats were volunteer positions, but Gatehouse said he’s just trying to help the city fill a need.
“I’m just trying to step up and help the city, but I understand their need to make sure everything is legal,” he said. “If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Tillison expressed disappointment in not being considered for the Ward 3 commissioner seat.
“I’m disappointed in not being nominated (by a commissioner),” he said. “But I’ve said all along that I’m not a politician, so I’m not going to throw stones.”