PALMETTO – Two seats on the Palmetto City Commission will be contested Nov. 6. In an at-large race, Eric Gilbert and Jonathon Davis will compete for the seat being vacated by Alan Zirkelbach. In Ward 1, incumbent Charles Smith, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Mary Lancaster's retirement last November, faces a challenge from Carolyn Higdon, who was also an applicant to replace Lancaster. The Palmetto City Commission is non-partisan.
Gilbert has deep ties to the city and is currently the chair of the Palmetto Planning & Zoning Board. He and his wife own a marketing company. Like his opponent, it is his first time running for office. Gilbert says his experience is key and knowing how the city works will help him be an effective commissioner.
Davis, a self-employed charter boat captain, is running as an outsider who says he wants to represent those who have not been successful in having their voices heard. Both candidates seem to agree that there have been two many instances where public input has not been seriously considered and pledge to represent the residents of Palmetto and not special interests.
In Ward 1, Charles Smith faces a challenge from Carolyn Higdon. Smith, a Palmetto High and UCF grad, lost to Lancaster by a mere 17 votes in 2010. Smith has been a longtime regional chair for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served on the Palmetto CRA Advisory Board prior to being appointed to replace Lancaster.
Smith says that his main focus in the 11 months he's held the office has been to reduce crime in his challenged district and says he was instrumental in the city hiring three black police officers, including its first black female officer. The underrepresentation of African Americans on the police force has been a long-time issue for the city.
Smith says his major focus looking into the future is the creation of a housing authority to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing for a city that has long struggled with too many residents living below the poverty line.
Higdon, who returned to Palmetto after retiring from the Army, hasn't actively campaigned for the seat. She has no website and did not return emails from TBT.
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