The Bradenton Beach commission chose a familiar face for the vacant seat on the dais.
Former Ward 3 Commissioner Ralph Cole — ousted in the Nov. 7 election — was tapped Dec. 6 for an open seat on the dais by the mayor and commissioners during a special meeting at city hall.
The vote was 3-1, with newly elected Commissioner Randy White casting the dissenting vote.
Planning and zoning board vice chair Jim Lynch also applied and was considered for the seat.
The seat opened when John Chappie resigned as commissioner to run for mayor in November. The voter’s approved charter amendment 1 — replacing the city’s four-ward system with an at-large election — which meant Cole, who lost his Ward 3 seat to White in the election, was eligible for the appointment.
The meeting began with White inquiring whether three amendments passed Nov. 7 had been incorporated into the city charter.
“I kind of see it as a chicken before the egg kind of thing,” White said, referring to amendment 1, which allows commissioners to reside anywhere in the city — at-large.
City attorney Ricinda Perry confirmed that according to a resolution previously approved by the commission, the three charter amendments approved by the electors in the city went into effect upon certification of the election.
Chappie opened the meeting by asking if anyone in the audience would like to file a last-minute application for the open seat.
White raised concerns about vetting qualifications for people on the spot.
“How do we vet someone who stands up today and says they want to be included?” White asked. “Seems they get spared the consideration to not have to give their information.”
Chappie said, per the commission-approved application procedure, the city provides the opportunity to apply at the meeting and, since the qualifications are minimal, the city clerk would be able to vet the applicant on the spot.
However, no one added his or her name to the hat.
During public comment, resident Jim Hassett asked the commission to consider the electors’ desire for change.
“I’ve been reading in the paper how we’re going to pay attention to the public. The public just got through telling us ‘We want change,’” Hassett said. “I would just like to ask you to continue thinking about change and to elect Mr. Lynch as the next commissioner.”
Former P&Z member John Metz also spoke on Lynch’s behalf, pointing out that 55 percent of the voters did not choose Cole.
White won the race with 205 votes to Cole’s 169 votes.
“I think when a candidate has been defeated, by the voters, 30 days ago, I think that voice is pretty clear,” Metz said.
Following public comment, Cole and Lynch each were allowed 10 minutes to express their desire to serve.
Cole said he would like to continue the work he started in 2016 as community redevelopment agency chair.
The CRA district’s blighted status allows grants and incremental tax revenue funding distributed by the county to promote restoration and growth in the district, including tourism.
Cole pointed out that the city receives $1.3 million in funds that must be used to enhance the CRA district, or be lost.
“It’s very important that that money goes to the city of Bradenton Beach because there’s a lot we can do with it,” Cole said, referencing projects he supported as CRA chair, including seagrass mitigation and dredging to create a channel southeast of the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
The city has filed bills with the state for the 2018 legislative session to get additional funds to enhance the district.
“If we get the money to mitigate that seagrass and create a channel through there, it will be a wonderful thing for Bradenton Beach. I’ve been working on it,” Cole said. “I’m very familiar with what is going on in the city. So if you choose me, I’ll be able to step in and continue what was done.”
Lynch listed his qualifications, including 20 years as a military attorney and 15 years as Hillsborough County assistant attorney.
“My whole working career has been looking at problems and trying to solve problems,” Lynch said. “And coming up with ways to make a win-win solution by talking with all stakeholders and try to determine a solution that everyone feels like they got something out of. I feel like I can add that.”
The commission’s decision
The commissioners next drew lots to determine their order in making nominations. Commissioner Marilyn Maro went first, with the two commissioners and mayor following.
Maro nominated Cole, citing his commitment to the CRA and to the community.
“After the hurricane, he came to my house to see if I was OK,” Maro said. “No one else did that.”
White went next and nominated Lynch.
“My decision seems to be a person more qualified than anybody I’ve ever heard of — James Lynch,” White said.
Commissioner Jake Spooner also nominated Cole.
“There’s only a year left on this term and it takes a while to get going,” Spooner said. “There’s a whole laundry list of accomplishments by Ralph (Cole). There’s things in the works that I would like to see come to completion.”
The final nomination from Chappie supported Cole.
“I think we have two incredible candidates and my want and desire is that Jim (Lynch), because he is so incredible on P&Z and with the new members on that board, I want him to mentor and help out there,” Chappie said. “We have some corrections that have to be taken care of, and I want Jim to lead the way and help out.”
As Chappie addressed the gallery with his decision, about half of the 25 attendees — known Lynch supporters —walked out of the meeting.
The commission voted 3-1 to appoint Cole, with White casting the dissenting vote.
“The commission summarily rejected the will of the people,” Bill Vincent, former P&Z member and Ward 4 commission candidate, who lost the election to Chappie in 2016, said. “Elections are supposed to have consequences.”
Vincent applied for the appointment, but then withdrew his application before the Dec. 6 meeting, saying he wasn’t comfortable being appointed to an elected position.
“The commission does not want ‘change,’” Vincent said. “They just re-established the same philosophy of the previous year.”
Vincent criticized the lack of discussion on the dais.
“Commissioner Maro basically said (Cole) is a nice guy and works hard. Commissioner Spooner said a year was not enough time to get up to speed,” Vincent said. “Mayor Chappie’s rationale — that he is qualified but would rather have him on P&Z to ‘clean up the mess there’ is a rather interesting one for rejecting him as commissioner.”
According to Vincent, Lynch’s qualifications “far outweighed” Cole’s, and the people who spoke at the meeting made their choice clear.
“The citizens made their determination on what they wanted,” Vincent said. “But, it was rejected. Business as usual.”