MANATEE COUNTY — Manatee County’s District 5 County Commission race draws another candidate who is pledging to help “reform the county commission.” Robert McCann, a 17-year resident of Manatee County, announced his candidacy in a press release last week.
McCann is a Republican and Navy Veteran, a recently retired physician and a lawyer who also holds a Master’s in Business/Health Care Administration. McCann was a resident of Chicago before relocating to the Sunshine State nearly two decades ago.
In a press release from his campaign, McCann announced, “Voters are demanding change! It’s time to re-DEVELOP the Manatee County Commission!”
McCann is quoted in the release as stating, “The power and authority of the government originate with the people,” before adding that as a commissioner, McCann will have Manatee citizens “serve as political consultants and advisors” to him rather than "paid political influencers from outside the area."
TBT reached McCann by phone about his campaign announcement and he shared that the decision to run stemmed from several factors. For one, said McCann, the incumbent—Commissioner Ray Turner (R)—would have otherwise been running unopposed. In addition, McCann said he feels strongly that District 5 needs representation that prioritizes “controlled and sustainable” growth, water conservation, and natural resource protection, and who will hold builders responsible for paying impact fees to support new growth.
By impact fees, added McCann, “I mean impact fees based on current data not based on numbers from a 2014 study.”
Manatee’s District 5 is one of the county’s two eastern districts and includes Lakewood Ranch. The majority of the rapidly growing district lies east of I-75. The district’s current representative, Turner, was appointed to the seat by the governor following District 5’s elected representative, Vanessa Baugh, stepping down from the seat before the end of her term.
Turner is a realtor who previously served on the county’s planning commission. Prior to his appointment to the county commission, Turner also served as treasurer to the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association.
McCann’s bid for Turner’s seat isn’t the doctor’s first campaign. McCann ran against Florida Congressman Greg Stuebe twice for a House seat—once in 2010 and again in 2012.
McCann, who ran as a Republican candidate in the 2010 race, was defeated in the primary. In 2012, McCann filed as an independent but was also defeated. He told TBT that in hindsight he wished he would not have changed his political affiliation for the race.
“I ran as an independent, but it was a choice I made following some bad advice. I am a Republican, and I shouldn't have done that at that time. I was advised by some in Tallahassee that doing so would provide more opportunity for voters to support my bid for election,” McCann explained.
In an Observer reporting brief from 2012, McCann told the publication that as a candidate for Florida House, he pledged to value the people over “PACs, special interests, or lobbyists.”
In his Manatee County District 5 campaign announcement, McCann seemed to strike on similar commitments he made to voters during his previous House races.
“I didn't know back then how much dark money and PAC influence there was during my first race in 2010, and how much of that influence is going into who gets elected into these seats,” McCann said.
McCann says that when it comes to the current Manatee County Commission, it seems that all the money comes from special interests, and that those “interests” control the county commission and its votes.
“I don’t like the idea that they are being told how to vote,” McCann said. “That doesn’t sit well with me.”
TBT asked McCann about one of the more high-profile votes made by the county commission in recent months—its 5-1 vote to roll back local wetland protections and defer buffer regulations to state-required minimums. Without hesitation, McCann stated strongly his disagreement with the board’s action.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue,” said McCann. “This is an issue of importance to the entire community. I do disagree with the vote, the county is within its legal rights to apply more protections to its wetlands than the state does. We had been, and there was no justifiable reason to change that.”
McCann pointed to commissioners' disregard of the recommended denial of the text amendment by its own planning commission.
“I know the protections get in the way of the builders, but that isn't a reason to change them. We need to protect our wetlands, not only for the preservation of the natural beauty of Florida but also so we can ensure sufficient and quality potable water into the future.”
Concerning the argument over the matter being one of “private property rights,” or that the county’s enhanced protections equated to an “unconstitutional taking,” McCann pulled from his legal background to state that it was his opinion that these arguments were baseless.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. This is not a taking,” he said. “The commissioners who argued this position are not using the terminology properly. It does not infringe on any individual's rights or their property rights. This is about water protection and resource protection.”
Another part of McCann’s announced platform is his advocacy for the importance of government transparency and fostering accessibility for citizens to voice their thoughts, concerns, and opinions with their elected officials.
In the campaign press release, a quote provided by McCann begins, “We can work together to create a vibrant, inclusive community that benefits everyone..."
When asked what the word “inclusive” means to him as a Republican candidate for District 5 and whether he would feel responsible for representing all his constituents equally regardless of politics or whether they voted for him, McCann said, “Most definitely. It's not just my district, this is a little different than when I ran for state representative. It's different in that only people in my district can vote for me, but my votes as a commissioner would impact every citizen in the county."
“I do not believe you have to vote with me, support me, or even agree with me. If someone wants to engage in an educated, open discussion, if they want to take the time to share their views—no matter what those are—I would be willing, and make myself available to listen,” he added.
Concerning his mission statement of fostering increased public access to their local leaders, TBT asked McCann if he were to win the election, whether he would support a return of phone-in public comments during commission meetings.
Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge unilaterally made the change to end public access to board meetings by call-in roughly a year ago. Since that time, Commissioner George Kruse has motioned in an attempt to return the added public accessibility for addressing the board but has been unable to get support from his colleagues.
“I most definitely would support bringing it back,” McCann told TBT. “I think the government is supposed to be working for the people and the residents, not the other way around. To limit any type of conversation from any constituent is wrong. As a public servant, you should want to hear differing opinions from residents and the wider public, so yes, I would want to hear their comments and support every measure that provides the public the ability to address their elected officials in any capacity they can.”
As the most recent candidate to announce his bid for a seat at the county commission’s dais, McCann joins several other candidates who have announced their intentions to challenge incumbents in the 2024 cycle. Four of the county’s seven district seats’ terms are up for election in 2024.
West Manatee County’s District 3, which includes Anna Maria Island, is currently represented by Van Ostenbridge. The current District 3 commissioner has filed for reelection but has drawn two competitors for the seat so far. A Republican primary candidate, Tal Siddique, and a Democratic candidate, Diana Shoemaker.
The county’s eastern and northeastern District 1, which includes Parrish, is also up for election during the next cycle. Currently held by incumbent Commissioner James Satcher, this race has also drawn a primary challenger, Carol Felts (who also ran for an at-large commission seat in 2022), and a Non-Party Affiliate, Jennifer Hamey.
The fourth commission seat up for election during the 2024 election is the county’s District 7 At-Large, or district-wide, seat. Currently represented by Commissioner George Kruse, the incumbent will be joined by two primary race challengers; REC Chair April Culbreath, and Keith Green.
To find your assigned commission district, learn more about local races and candidates, or view campaign financial disclosures, visit the Manatee Supervisor of Elections online and select the “Voters Information” tab and/or Local Candidates & Committees page.
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