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Manatee County Commissioners Often Speak Most Freely When Their Chambers are Nearly Empty


The most interesting discussions at Manatee County Board of Commissioners meetings often come after the day's scheduled issues are decided, the inevitable honors and plaques have been distributed, and the only people left in the commission chambers are the commissioners themselves, a  few county staff people, and a bored reporter or two. In this case, at the end of their April 13 meeting, commissioners discussed topics ranging from meeting with the local business community while keeping their lips zipped to whether an individual commissioner should write letters to staff members or state government bodies if the other commissioners voted against him.

Note: All speech is paraphrased unless enclose in quotation marks, and the conversation has been edited for brevity.  

Brown - I don't know how our legislators voted on the recent bill about teacher compensation  and test scores. I would like to oppose this bill because it's idiotic. Some kids come to school ready to learn, and some do not. We need to tie something in with parents, and nothing in that bill ties parents into the process. -- SB-6 is a good way to run people out of the teaching profession..

Hayes - I agree with you. We're in bad economic times, and this will make our schools less competitive, which is exactly what we don't need.

Brown - I went to a meeting on Friday. People asked me what we're going to cut (from the county and school budgets). I also went to a trial of a young man. Sad.  Sad that parents are not raising them better.  No matter how old they are, they're still our babies, but babies grow up and get into things.

Bustle - I was at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council yesterday. There were two significant decisions. One was about a program called "Get Ready Tampa Bay" about electric vehicles, both 100% plug-in and hybrid. We passed a resolution studying the implications if GM or someone else wants to put a manufacturing or research facility here. The second thing was about Amendment 4. Last month we were supposed to have a debate over it, but the proponents didn't show up. This time, we brought one in, a Mr. Weintraub. Then we had an anti person speak.

I had a question for the council attorney: Would it be legal for board to make a resolution about Amendment 4? He said yes, so the Tampa Bay Planning Council is now officially against Amendment 4.

Bustle - I move to make a (Manatee County) resolution against Amendment 4.

McClash - "I think Amendment 4 is a great idea," just another step in the process of getting a comp plan change approved.

Hayes - The attorney for TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority) prepared resolutions both in favor of and opposed to Proposition 4. And when I was in Tallahassee, the Association of Counties took a vote and it went against Amendment 4, 149 delegates to one.

McClash - I'm sure an anti-Proposition 4 resolution is legal. I just don't agree with it.

The Commissioners then voted 4 - 1 in favor of resolution against Amendment 4, with McClash dissenting.

Chappie - The Tampa Bay Estuary Program meeting I recently went to had a single agenda item: Send a letter to the EPA requesting that the EPA accept nutrient levels the Sarasota Bay (Estuary Program) people recommend. (County Natural Resources Department) person Charle Hunsicker will have staff here at our April 27 meeting asking EPA to follow our recommendations. We don't need new pollution criteria. We have regionally-negotiated regulations that work fine.

McClash - Florida is being singled out by this rule; we've made significant strides (in water quality), and we're not getting recognized for it.

Commissioner Whitmore had three concerns:

1 - There are no transit shelters (at bus stops) on 53rd Ave E., 63rd Ave E., or along new 301. It's generally a low-income area. When I drive through there I see old ladies and pregnant women waiting for buses in the rain and the hot sun. We should do something about this.

2 - I got a memo in my mail today, from (County Administrator) Hunzeker about the Manatee Beach concession. I want to know more about the bids; I'm getting media calls and calls from the Island mayors asking how the bids are going.

3 - McClash sent an email to Hunzeker criticizing him, mostly about things McClash has voted against. But I support you (talking to Hunzeker) 100%, myself, and I want you to know that.

Chappie - What aboout people who ask me  at places like Kiwanis meetings about beach concesssions? 

County attorney's official answer: Tell them it's going through the staff process and that there are restrictions on discussions of the bid, which are there to keep the process fair.

Hayes - You just need to tell them it's the process, that you can't say anything right now.

Bustle - I believe you praise in public and chastise in private. I have trouble understanding why someone (glares at Commissioner McClash) writes letters to others after the fact about Comission decisions, especially when 6 out of the 7 of us agree most of the time.  

Hayes -  We each have the right to bring up issues, but I am confused and mesmerized by this conversation. McClash is asking for information from  the county executive  about eight items I though we already had settled.

Whitmore - I supported you (Hayes) for two years when other commissioners were rude to you. I'm worried about McClash's letter that was copied to commissioners knocking staff people and department heads, and how McClash had made a comment when we appointed him that Mr. Hunzeker is not experienced enough for the job. McClash should just talk to Hunzeker, not write emails.

Hayes - He -- McClash -- has the right to talk or write as he pleases. Let's move on...

Chappie - I was unhappy with Hayes for her behavior about the $400,000 (for EDC support passed during the last meeting) that she believed was spent too quickly.

Hayes - *Rules Chappie out of order.* (bangs gavel)

McClash - The $400,000 issue... I have talked with Mr. Hunzeker about it. It was not appropriated using the same standard we use for other departments. If it was the Sheriff, we would know how many people he was hiring and what they'd be doing. "I think we have an obligation to report back to the taxpayers" and tell them what we're doing with their money.  And there's a bigger issue. We want to create jobs? For the Port we have a TIF (Tax Increment Financing District). We've talked about a marketing person for that TIF. Can the  EDC (Economic Development Council) work with the Port and the TIF? What has the EDC done with money we've already given them? And what are they going to do with money we give them in the future?

We need to get an unbiased marketing consultant; someone to tell us what we have that Sarasota, Collier, and Lee counties don't. Do we even have a single brochure that really sells Manatee County?

McClash (continues) - I'm biased toward the port, but if you bring someone in from the outside, they might say something else is more important.

$400,000... we can bring it up at every meeting. I suggest we all hold hands together, including the EDC and business leaders... that we take a step back, have a single-item discussion about this county and jobs and ask, "How do we get to where we want to be?"

Let's all work together, put our issues aside. Business taxes, $400,000... maybe we really need $600,000...

Whitmore - I agree with you, Joe about the $400,000.  That was Commissioner Brown's estimate of how much a busineess tax would raise. And we are *not* giving money to EDC until they actually come up with a plan about how they're going to spend it.

Chappie - talking about Manatee County assets... We did meet with business leaders a year ago. It may be time to do it again.

Hayes - McClash is moving to my way of thinking; we need to support business for the whole county, not just the port.

On the business tax: we replaced the business tax with $400,000 because that's what the business tax would have brought in, not because that's the amount we needed. And the business tax is not gone; $400,000 is just for one year.

Hayes (cont) - "We need to be looking at the whole community; what do we want to ask of the EDC?" We are not going to give $400,000 to the EDC all at once; we'll give it to them in chunks as we see what they're doing with it.

Hunzeker - Our staff is in the process of preparing an EDC contract. In the process, we will get answers to most of your questions --  and this will be a resimbursible contract; they'll spend money first,  then we'll reimburse.

Brown - We have discussions, not actions. On the business tax issue: we have many small businesses that aren't part of the Chamber (of Commerce). $35 (the proposed business tax amount) is a lot if you're struggling. Yes, we need to meet with the business community again.

Brown to McClash - Don't "cry like a baby." Every time something doesn't go your way, you write a letter to someone. Majority rules here, and we need everyody working together to make the economy better here in Manatee County.

Hayes - These things do not need to come forward... we don't need to air our dirty laundry in public.

Hayes  - Commisioner Brown, would you make a motion for a workshop where everyone can speak, but where we (Comissioners) should NOT talk, just keep our mouths shut and listen. Let's have staff set up that meeting.

Brown - I move that we have a talk with businesses in the county where commissioners "zip their mouths," and just listen to business people and the public.

Bustle: Second.

Whitmore - We told Mr. Hunzeker that the  Chamber is supposed to do (the listening). The Lakewood Ranch Chamber, 400 members, voted for the business tax.

Hayes - That's not true about the Lakewood Ranch Chamber. I've been a member for many years, and they did not talk to members before they supported the business tax.

McClash- don't we already have a montion to do something like that -- the listening? Let's stop talkng about the business tax, period.

Bustle - We're getting off track. I seconded  Commisioner Brown's motion because it didn't talk about the business tax. Let's have the business community tell us if we're going the right direction...

Hayes - The first step is working with the community. The (Manatee) Chamber didn't communicate with their members, either.

Brown - Let me clarify: - I only referenced the business tax as where the $400,000 figure came from.

Brown to McClash - "You have some good ideas, but you really like to stir crap up." Discussion, though, sitting behind this desk, doesn't help any business. Let's do something.

Hayes - Brown, are you willing to amend your motion to put in a deadline? When? June 1?

Brown - Let's ask the administrator.

Hnzeker - You mean, to talk about business tax issues? If you meet with the business community before the tax issues are worked out, that meeting WILL turn into business tax discussion no matter what title you put on that meeting.

Hayes - It will be about that no matter what, before or after.  

Hunzeker - We still need to work out problem of (how to tax) landlords, the tax collection methods, and to communicate with the business communities.

McClash - Can I get a report back, Mr. Hunzeker, on the list of things we've done already to pay for econ development, like CRAs (Community Redevlopment Agencies)?

Brown - A meeting about business is not the same as a meeting about a business tax. We need to tak about business, not about a tax. This meeting needs to take place, anyway. The county has to take the lead. This has nothing to do with the  Chamber or the EDC.

Hayes - Mr. Hunzeker, do you have anything to say to that?

Hunzeker- You want a workshop, I'll make it happen.

Brown - Our meeting last year... You call that a workshop?

Hayes - call the meeting, "We Are Listening."  

Bustle - Why not hire an outside moderator and not have us chair? They can then talk about us because we wouldn't be in charge.

Chappie - I thought the motion from Brown was to have "We are Listening 2" - like last year's meeting.

McClash - The Kiwanis Club is doing it, too: holding a strategy session with the whole community; cities, the county, businesses, citizens.

Hayes - We have a motion about a meeting. Mr. Hunzeker, when can we do it?

Hunzeker - I'd suggest by mid-June.

Brown - I'd prefer the 1st part of June, and would like to add that a moderator should be brought in to keep it a listening meeting and not have it be about the business tax.

Hayes - A moderator is a good idea.  

And with that, the motion to have a "listening meeting" where commissioners "zip their lips" was unanimously approved.



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