Bradenton Beach backs 2 wards with citywide vote

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Bradenton Beach commissioners had mixed opinions July 19 on re-establishing voting wards.

But commissioners were in agreement in their opposition to restricting the ballot to wards. They preferred ward seats be filled by a citywide vote.

Wards are divisions in the city that elect a representative or commissioner.

The recommendation from the ad hoc charter review committee to the commission called for representatives from two wards, north and south, and the mayor elected at-large.

Four wards of equal blocks of voters were established by the city charter and defined by the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections in 1976, according to the population base at the time.

A charter amendment approved by voters in 2017 eliminated wards — which held about 200 voters each. There now are no restrictions on where a candidate for city office resides.

Before 2017, candidates only could run to represent the ward in which they lived, while the vote was citywide.

“I don’t like the idea of two wards where you are restricted in voting,” Mayor John Chappie said. “I think everybody, two wards or more, should be elected at-large.”

He said he supports ward representation, but the city is too small for the vote to be divided and he fears it would “create a clear division.”

Commissioner Marilyn Maro agreed. She said she supports four wards, but without voting restrictions.

She said she received calls from constituents concerned their voting rights will be diminished if an amendment is placed on the ballot with ward-based voting limitations.

“They said they want their city as a whole,” Maro said. “We’re such a small city. They don’t want us divided. ‘United we stand, divided we fall,’ and I think that’s still true.”

Commissioner Ralph Cole said, “The beauty of the wards is that we didn’t have two people from the same household or same condos representing the whole city.” He added that when charter amendments are placed on the ballot in an off-year election — when neither a presidential or midterm election is taking place — a smaller portion of the population is voting and might not be representative of the entire city.

Commissioner Randy White, whose 2017 campaign platform included removing the wards, said he prefers to let the amendment stand — no wards.

“My motto is, ‘What’s best? Four people elected from the same city block or four appointed from the same voting bloc?’” White said. He added that in this year’s election there are four candidates for two positions, which is more than there would be with wards.

Commissioner Jake Spooner said he supports four wards. He said people feel more comfortable speaking with a representative who lives in the same neighborhood. He said the commission’s duty is for the CRC recommendation to be placed on the ballot, but he “would like to see other options.”

Mary Bell, charter review committee chair, attended the July 19 meeting and thanked the mayor and commissioners for their input. She said she would share their opinions with the rest of the committee at the next CRC meeting, which was to be at 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 25, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

The charter review committee is rushing to get approval to put a new ward proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot — with a deadline of Aug. 28.

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