Elected on the same day but adversaries for more than a year, Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon and Vice Mayor Jack Clarke faced off May 6 in a candidate forum at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach.
Clarke and Shearon flanked two board members from the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, which sponsored the forum and posed the questions.
The May 19 mayoral recall election has several parts. It asks two questions of voters. If Shearon is not recalled, he remains mayor. If he is recalled, the ballot gives voters a chance to re-elect Shearon or vote Clarke into the office for the remaining five months of Shearon’s term.
However, since Clarke was required by state law to resign in order to run for the mayor’s seat, he forfeits his commission seat, win or lose. Whatever happens, one man will answer to “Mr. Mayor” May 21, when the commission next convenes.
Clarke shuffled and frequently referred to notes on the dais as he tried to score debate points by attacking Shearon as responsible for what he called the “dire circumstances” in the city.
Shearon counter-attacked “off the cuff,” unable due to his vision disability to view notes.
The vice mayor said he could wait to run for mayor in the November 2015 general election. “But I see our city sinking by the day, behind the scenes, slowly spiraling down like a disaster,” he said.
Shearon countered that the city made tremendous progress during the 18 months he has served as mayor.
He spoke of the renovated Historic Bridge Street Pier, the global settlement of four lawsuits against the city — “mediated, not litigated” — the city’s improved financial stability, implementation of a new email system, construction of a new city website and the creation of John R. Chappie Gulfside Park with private donations.
Shearon said the greatest challenge the city faces during the next six months is for commissioners to cooperate with one another. The mayor — who often presides over 3-2 votes on important issues — said the recall election and the forfeiture process he encountered have been “very disruptive.”
According to Clarke, the city’s greatest challenge will be to “face the issues that we’ve been sweeping under the rug for the last year and a half. We have to speak the truth, abandon the rhetoric, make sure everything we say is factually correct. We need to take care of our employees. We need to restore the morale that used to be in this city.”
Shearon denied he is the root of poor staff morale. He reminded Clarke that the commission, not he, has the authority to hire and fire employees.
After more discussion about employee morale and their respective accomplishments on the commission, Shearon and Clarke agreed that the city’s financial situation has improved greatly since their election. Shearon said when he took office an audit showed 24 deficiencies and the city spending money it had not budgeted. The first audit under his watch was clean, he said.
Asked about code enforcement policies, Clarke said: “To selectively enforce the code enforcement is wrong, just flat out wrong. That has happened in the past. Old cases have been reopened that shouldn’t have been reopened because they had already been adjudicated.”
Shearon said the code officer, now working under the chief of police, should function equally as proactive and reactive code enforcement to find a balance for complaints and resolve issues before they become problems.
Clarke and Shearon ended the forum by revisiting important themes of their campaigns. Shearon said he came into a very difficult situation as mayor in 2013 and any one of the many challenges he faced would be a major accomplishment for any administration.
Clarke said he put his job as commissioner and his seat as vice mayor on the line to run in the recall election. “I ask the voters to do the right thing,” he said.