BRADENTON – Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen has had a busy four years since being elected to the board in 2010. The former school teacher and attorney has ended up on the losing end of many votes, but that hasn’t stopped him from building an impressive resume, along with a strong case that the voters of district 2 should send him back to the BOCC this August.
Gallen was born and raised in Manatee County, graduating from Manatee High School and MCC (now State College of Florida), before moving on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Georgia and a Law Degree from Nova Southeastern University School of Law.
Upon graduating, Gallen worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in the office of General Counsel and worked for the Florida House of Representatives as staff attorney for the Committee on Business Regulation during the 2003 and 2004 legislative sessions. Then he taught American Government and American History at Lakewood Ranch High School until his election to the BOCC.
Gallen and his wife Alexandra have three children; Linda, Juliette and Thomas. Growing up the son of a war hero and prominent politician – former Florida State Senator, Representative and Chief Circuit Judge Thomas Gallen – Michael was known for much of his life simply as the Judge’s kid. However, his impressive body of work as a local legislator has certainly allowed him to build a reputation that stands on its own. These days, he’s simply Commissioner Gallen, his pedigree barely registering a footnote.
Gallen is known as a constituent’s commissioner and you’re more likely to see him talking to residents of his district at small community functions than hobnobbing at the glitzier political events favored by local pols.
The attorney’s nuanced understanding of the law has been a BOCC asset, giving him a unique perspective from which to approach issues. His calm demeanor and thoughtful, measured approach to legislating has also been a welcome addition to a board known for too often ramming through votes with little or no discussion.
While many of his fellow commissioners seem too comfortable following the administration’s lead and voting on whatever is recommended by staff, it’s more often than not Commissioner Gallen who is showing up with a big stack of papers and a long list of pertinent policy questions. There have been many instances where Gallen has not only seemed to know much more about the issue at hand than his fellow board members, but also expressed the strongest reservations regarding proposed policies. It’s enlightening when the commissioner who has done the most homework gives the most pause, and the thought of a board without that kind of counterbalance is troubling.
During his first term, Gallen led the charge to get Children Services funds redirected from incarceration to their intended use, and he also spearheaded a countywide joint use agreement to open public school playgrounds and other facilities to provide safe recreation areas for area youth.
“One of the most frequent complaints I would hear from constituents was that there were not enough places for teens to hang out at night and during the summer, and so too many of them would end up getting into trouble,” explained Gallen. “Meanwhile, we had these taxpayer assets that were sitting there with the gates chained up for much of the time. It only made sense to work with the school district, law enforcement and local governments to make as many these places available as possible, so that kids could have a place to go when they weren’t at school.”
Early in his term, Gallen brought the Palmetto community together to come up with a solution to close the notorious Grover's Market, a dilapidated mini-mart in his district, known for chronic drug activity and violence. The building is now on the market.
When the county wanted to impose an additional sales tax to fund its status quo on indigent care, Gallen pushed for more accountability to cost savings and efficiency and lobbied to invest the money from a proposed special election into credible outside consulting on how that might be best achieved.
Gallen took a two-prong approach to his district, recognizing that in addition to fighting for necessary services and improvements, the community needed more investment and redevelopment to stimulate economic activity and drive opportunity. He worked diligently to expand the work of the 14th Street West CRA and fought against a plan to roll it into a larger TIF district.
Gallen also energized his district by working to have an Urban Inflow Redevelopment Area lined up with the DDA Enterprise Zone in the urban core. The UIRA was created by Florida statute, but the county had never really done anything with it. With the districts aligned by the same boundaries, it has helped to simplify and further incentivize development in the North 41 urban core.
Gallen says he’s proud of what he’s been able to accomplish as a commissioner, but still sees much work to be done and is excited to continue to be a part of his district’s rejuvenation, should voters send him back for another four years.
“The infrastructure in older neighborhoods – drainage, sidewalks, lights – it needs to continue to get better,” said Gallen. “Pre-planned-development is just missing in too many urban places. We can’t just focus on new developments out east and ignore our aging urban core, where problems only become more expensive the longer they go unattended. We’ve done a good job with Community Development Block Grant funding, a federal appropriation grant, but I think we can do more curb blight and improve urban neighborhoods.”
Gallen faces Palmetto City Commissioner Charles Smith and former District 1 candidate Corie Holmes in a three-way Democratic primary this August. There is no Republican on the ballot, but because a write-in candidate has registered, the race will be closed off to Democrats only.
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