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Opinion

Republicans Need to Clean Up the Republican Mess We've Made in Manatee County

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Our county government has been corrupted, and we, as Republicans, are at fault. It is our Republican majority that has elected the worst commissioners in our county’s history after disguising themselves as conservatives when they are really the least conservative and most anti-democratic group of elected officials I can recall. 

I served 22 years as a Manatee County Commissioner. We enacted policies to save money, listen to the people we serve, and, most of all, ensure we had a talented and respected workforce. We had a standard of ethics and an open book to all we did on the public's behalf. We were not puppets to the developers and had development impact fees that ensured that residents did not have to pay for the infrastructure like roads and parks. As Republicans, we conserved our rich array of environmental resources. We refused to change policies so that a developer could make a few extra bucks at the cost of our quality of life.

Now, we have a chance as Republicans to correct our failures and elect people who put the citizens over the developers. The election season has started, and the insults to our intelligence are evident in the slick postcard mailers and text messages you've probably started receiving. The incumbent county commissioners, except for George Kruse, fail to have an open public debate, go on a podcast, or even respond to emails you send them because they rely on those slick mailers to fool you into believing they are super-conservatives.

And why not? The majority of Republicans that voted them into office have believed the hyper narrative all orchestrated from polls and then executed by a political hack. That political hack is Anthony Pedicini, and his connection to developer Carlos Beruff is no secret. Recent county commission votes favoring Carlos were worth well over $200 million. So investing a million bucks to have people he can control is an easy decision. And suppose those bought and paid for commissioners fail to stay in line by not voting as the developer pleases. In that case, they are terminated from the PAC money, direct contributions, and his hack consultant so that they can go about installing another puppet candidate.

This is evident with Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge, who has stayed in favor with Carlos, while George Kruse went off script by refusing to be a puppet. Van Ostenbridge, who, for good reason, is loathed in his current district, switched races to challenge Kruse in an at-large seat. The two Republicans will face off in the August primary. It is a perfect race for Republicans to finally start to correct our failures in electing qualified people. While Kruse has not been perfect, he has represented our Republican views with renewed ethics, while KVO has proven to serve only his master.

It is not normal how our current county government is operating, and it is certainly not a government based on our Republican principles. If I had to really describe our county commission’s governance, I would compare it to a Russian form of government where speech is suppressed, and the oligarch developers are really in charge. Our county government has even created its own state media for disinformation.

These commissioners, sans Kruse, are certainly not conservatives as we know them, wasting so many of our tax dollars and having the government remove private enterprises to create their own government-supported businesses. What is most insulting to me as a Republican is the use of their platform to waste staff time and money on culture war issues that are not under their purview so that at election time, they can make artificial claims of being a “real” conservative. If they had spent a fraction of that time fixing our transportation chaos, perhaps we would have a plan to reduce or eliminate congested corridors. 

The question I have for my fellow Republicans is, will you be fooled again and vote for a candidate based on a mailer from a political hack who knows how to trigger your emotion based on a poll? Or will you commit to doing your own research and understanding the history of the people running for office and their qualifications? The fact is, dirty money is going to buy quite a few mailers, ads, and yes, those lovely text messages. 

These mailers and texts should all be red flag warnings about that candidate. The better candidates who won’t act as puppets to their masters will have a fraction of the money. The developer-funded campaign has already started in my district. The KVO surrogate candidate, April Culbreath, sent five slick mailers, each insulting my intelligence more than the last.  Culbreath’s campaign is assisted by Pedicini, which is the same hack that KVO,  Ray Turner, and Supervisor of Elections candidate James Satcher are using. There are no solutions, just general hype from a poll, and get this, she messages that she keeps Biden awake at night. Are we Republicans really dumb enough to believe that? 

So yes, most Republicans don't like President Biden, but to use Biden as the issue I should vote for someone locally is insulting. We have local issues that need to be discussed, which should be our local candidates' focus. Culbreath refuses to comment or discuss her candidacy on a one-on-one podcast the way that non-developer-backed candidates have. Maybe she wants to hide her troubling past as a cop. Her opponent, Tal Siddique, provided an informative conversation about himself on The Bradenton Times Podcast. It is worth listening to and also quite refreshing. We have a candidate who is young, very qualified, and eager to restore ethics in our corrupt county.  I was 33 years old when I was elected, and we could use a good, young, qualified county commissioner with brain power instead of another developer puppet spouting off national talking points.

It is not just the county commission races that we, as Republicans, must fix. We need to elect a Supervisor of Elections who has credentials, not just an appointment stemming from ….  you can guess it, our favorite developer. What is most disturbing about this race is that it is one of our Republicans from our own community did the most to place the least qualified applicant as Supervisor of Elections. Bill Galvano, a past Florida Senate President, lobbied the governor’s staff to appoint Satcher. Satcher, a person with zero relevant experience,  got the nod instead of Republican Scott Farrington, who has over 20 years of experience with elections and multiple certifications. 

Farrington is a very conservative person with proven values. Satcher should be given “the lying preacher award” for his performances as a county commissioner and his first action as a Manatee County Supervisor of Elections. His not-so-secret meeting with KVO resulted in almost a million-dollar request to, among other things, add two satellite offices out east and get better security for our election software. 

People, don't be fooled by this deception. Our county has maintained the most advanced election software with safeguards and transparent votes. Bob Sweat, a previous Manatee County Supervisor of Elections, implemented the system we have today with the paper ballots that are scanned and provided an easy way to hand count the actual ballots, if necessary. Every ballot has its picture taken and can be requested for anyone to see. Mike Bennett followed Bob Sweat and maintained integrity of the voting system. He hired Scott Farrington because he was qualified, not because he was the spouse of a fellow commissioner. When Bennett resigned for personal reasons, he had every expectation that the governor would appoint Farrington based on his competency, and of course, he is a Republican. 

Galvano, a lawyer with the local Grimes Galvano law firm, people may recall, was the governor’s hatchet man at the New College takeover and even gave Anthony Pedicini his start as a political hack. Pedicini had no issue attacking candidates with misleading campaign tactics and continues today in a world of PAC money that provides nearly unlimited resources. It is also interesting that Galvano's law firm recently hired Bill Clague, who was the county attorney who allowed such actions as the elimination of wetland buffers to proceed without meeting the county's comprehensive plan requirements.

What a mess our county Republicans have created. It is time we roll up our sleeves and do some work correcting our failures. I can go on with so many non-conservative actions that should turn the stomach of any true conservative Republican. Here are just a few:

  1. Firing a county administrator because developers wanted her gone cost us millions of dollars, resulting in the loss of over 500 experienced employees. This resulted in a loss of institutional knowledge and employees who fear their jobs if they do not do the developers' bidding.
  2. Hiring the incompetent Scott Hopes as county administrator, who now has three felony charges pending against him. He is charged with grand theft, notary fraud, and fraudulent use of public records during his time as Manatee County Administrator. 
  3. Removing the Coquina Beach Market operator because they thought she was making too much money and replacing it with the county's operation.
  4. Using over a million dollars of our tax dollars to buy water taxis, now wanting $4 million for another vessel—an enterprise that should be a private operation. Furthermore, it was established with the false promise that the operations would take cars off the road. 
  5. Forcing a local government to be subject to the county's wasteful desire to put an over $40 million  parking garage in its city and take away free parking for the beach.
  6. Taking over a million dollars of our redevelopment taxes and giving it to the airport for a park to watch planes land when the money could be used for sidewalks and reducing crime. Spoiler alert: people have been parking there for years, watching the planes land. What a waste of taxpayer money and Carlos Beruff is on the airport board.
  7. The elimination of our wetland buffers—a policy change that Beruff and company wanted—will result in the loss of our mangroves, which provide significant economic value. Of course, this decision offers developers more money as a direct return on their investment in getting people like KVO elected.
  8. Failing to increase impact fees to support development. Get ready for some dishonest mailers claiming the county raised impact fees to support growth. The truth is the county commissioners, with the exception of Kruse, are using an outdated study when they have a new one, justifying a significant increase. The cost savings for the developer will be almost a billion dollars. Are these conservative Republicans or just RINOS helping an Orglarch developer who pays for them to get elected?
  9. Using county employees to suppress free speech. KVO uses code enforcement to remove signs he does not like, just like Putin suppresses his opposition - how is this a Republican principle?

While most of us are busy going to work, raising our children, watching our grandkids, or just enjoying retirement, there are those busy working against our values, without ethics, and willing to lie to voters so they can make a few extra million and/or tear apart the local government and its policies that allowed them to make those millions to begin with. We have had a pretty good quality of life here in this county, but the greed of a few, along with the incompetent elected officials the sponsor, will chisel away at what we value. 

As Republicans, we have a responsibility to right the wrongs we have created. I urge my fellow Republicans, who our elected officials have betrayed, to make a commitment to not vote for any candidate the developer funds or his political hack represents and email at least five people to do the same. You can send this article or write an opinion piece yourself.

We, as Republicans, own this mess. Let's take back our county in this election. If you are not a Republican and are reading this, you can help us clean up this mess by registering as a Republican now. Change back later, but at least you can help in the primary, where most of these races are decided and from which you've been locked out via the write-in loophole.

Here is my personal list of “Do not Vote for” candidates:

  • “The Lying Preacher” James Satcher for Supervisor of Elections 
  • April Culbreath—was not the good cop she claims to have been and will be lock step with KVO
  • Kevin Van Ostenbridge—the most incompetent commissioner, adept only at wasting our tax dollars
  • Ray Turner—appointed to fill a vacant seat because developers knew he would play ball
  • Steve Metallo, a developer-backed candidate running for the District 1 Manatee County Commission seat vacated by Satcher

Joe McClash is the publisher of The Bradenton Times. He is a Marine Corps veteran who served on the Manatee County Commission from 1990 to 2012.

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  • Dianna

    What an excellent opinion piece! Sad because you can’t even begin to cover all the damage, the bulk of which was committed in under 2 years, by this “corrupt 6 super majority” of commissioners. Except for Kruse, from the dais these 6 corrupt commissioners openly “hate” and have no desire to listen to citizen’s concerns or needs. Because of their lack of brain power and independent thought they resort to belittling, name-calling, and using the power of their self-created dictator government against the people they are supposed to represent. With the help of our community, citizens have the power to take back Manatee County, but this will only happen if people start talking to their friends and neighbors so that they become informed voters.

    Saturday, July 6 Report this

  • sandy

    I was a lifelong Democrat because when I registered for the first time in 1975, I registered to the party my parents were in. Also, where I came from Democrats were the prevalent party. If you wanted to try for a civil service job, you had a better chance if Democrat. Moved to Manatee County and was blocked in many local races being Democrat and the write in candidate. Never thought about it. But this year, I changed my party affiliation to Republican so I can vote in the primary. I specifically did it for the SOE, but now since KVO switched districts I can also vote against him. I can only vote for District 7 and SOE and Property Appraiser (other constitutional officers had no challenger), so VOTE FARRINGTON, HACKNEY AND KRUSE IN THE PRIMARY! Can't vote other districts so it is up to other concerned and educated voters. Please inform yourselves and thank you Commissioner McClash. (FYI, I was one of the county employees who resigned after 26 years, 23 doing floodplain management).

    Saturday, July 6 Report this

  • Charles

    Bravo

    Saturday, July 6 Report this

  • JanaDM

    You are referring to SWAMP republicans. It is time to drain the swamp!

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • WTF

    The gang of 6 have been addicted to corruption and developer’s monies. Time for an intervention at the voting poles. This is the WORST BOCC I have ever witnessed in my 40 years in Manatee County. The hate that this gang of 6 have for citizens is unforgivable. They don’t want us a BOCC meetings, they don’t want our public comments, they discontinued phone in public comments the list goes on and on as far as the eye can see.

    “Voting is not only our right; it is our power. When we vote, we take back our power to choose, to speak up, and to stand for what we believe in.” – Unknown

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • Debann

    What a great read...thank you Joe for reminding us of all the corruption this BOCC has done.. Most CORRUPT BOCC EVER...I agree with everything you stated..all this BOCC does is make their wallet bigger. WE DON'T NEED ANYMORE BULLIES ON THE BOCC..VOTE ACCORDINGLY..

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • jimandlope

    Thank you Mr. Mc Clash for your insightful and accurate commentary on our Manatee “mess,”. This travesty of governance does extend further to other enablers at the state level. Those being DeSantis, ( he appointed Satcher), Will Robinson, ( he helped with the parking garage) and our state senator. Who is he and what does he do? The common thread is that they are all Republican! Voters need to take that in to consideration. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment you need changes. Jim Tierney

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • Ritalg

    Thank you for restoring my faith in republicans. I’ve always been an independent, voting for who I thought was the best person for the job. How naive I’ve been all these years. Unfortunately, we have a two party system and if you don’t vote for one of these parties your vote simply doesn’t matter. I registered republican this year to be able to vote in the primaries even though I lean more towards the democrats lately with all the crazy people who are running our governments with their authoritarian views. It makes me sad that money is the most important thing to politicians…even all the way down to our county level. Money rules. People are what is really important. It starts at the county level and thats what we can change.

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • rjckeuka4

    This piece should be put into the hands of EVERY VOTER in Manatee County. It is accurate, it is comprehensive, it lays out graphically the damage done by this County Commission in the past four years...all out of GREED... the greed of developers to make millions, but also the greed of Commissioners, who have never held positions with such status and responsibility for a Billion-dollar budget and 2000 employees, nor positions with salaries at the level of Commissioners, likely more than 50 to 100% higher than they had ever earned in the past. We as Republicans are responsible...we as Republicans must clean it up!

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • 409harley

    Bravo Mr. McClash! Now if voters will just listen and get out and vote for the right reasons! If Kruse loses this election, then I guess the majority of Manatee residents side with the developers. Sad, sad, sad ...

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • san.gander

    To clean up Manatee vote Democrat. There are so few "honest Republicans" in the County... only go-alongs, corrupt, and very unwilling to change!

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • David Daniels

    We have an Administrator who is every bit as corrupt as VanOstenbridge. Charlie Bishop, who promoted Sarah Brown even after she wrote an email to the Maddie’s Shelter Evaluator asking that the County shelter evaluation be given over the phone so there would not be a record. Bishop, who did nothing and let 11 good volunteers be fired for speaking up about shelter conditions.

    Bishop, who thumbs his nose at public record laws, even ignoring the County’s own policy requiring the use of county-issued phones for county business, instead he uses only a personal phones so there is no record when Beruff and Pedicini text him. And when former Records Manager Debbie Scaccianoce refused KVO’s request that she illegally inflate charges to discourage release of his text messages, instead of praising Scaccianoce for doing the right thing - Bishop fired her. It’s no wonder when Carlos Beruff sought to violate the Land Use Code, Nicole Knapp knew she had better not do the right thing, as Debbie had done. So she approved it, and wrote a pretzel logic explanation. I bet she didn’t even have to ask Bishop, she knew the kind of leader he is, and the corrupt kind of government she works for. Same with Code Enforcement Supervisor Tom Wooten. It is on record that Wooten directed a County employee to remove a sign from private property - which is a crime. A County Administrator with integrity would have immediately disciplined Wooten. Instead, it was the officer that got in trouble. What signal does that send throughout the organization? It signals that all County employees, under Bishop's leadership, had better check their integrity and principles at the door. It's play the corruption game or find another job.

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • cusickr

    Joe,

    An EXCEPTIONAL article! Thank you for this! Hope there are enough readers out there who will make a difference for all of us!

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • barbstubbers

    Thanks, Joe, for your continuing dedication for what is in the best interest of Manatee County!

    You have the expertise to see the truth and articulate it clearly.

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • sandy

    SAN.GANDER: If you want to vote Democrat that's fine. But you will have to wait for the general election in November. But to remove the most corrupt, this will be decided at the Republican primary in August. To remove Satcher from SOE, KVO from District 7, Culbreath from District 3 and Turner from District 5 you need to vote in the Republican primary before they make it to the general. Then you can vote Democrat in District 7, District 1 and District 3 and NPA in District 5 if you so choose to. SOE will be decided at the primary. Unfortunately, this is a predominantly Republican county so what kind of odds do you think a Democrat will have? Vote Farrington, Kruse, Siddique, McCann, Felts in the primary and then vote Democrat or NPA in the general if you want.

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • misty

    Joe is spot on! Republicans created this mess and must correct it. Manatee can't take another 4 years.

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • Mtmartin

    Right on Joe! I love the list of the worst of the worst. I'll point out one shining example of the lengths these people are willing to go to get what their masters pay them for. The board hired Dan Delisi to be their subject matter expert on protecting our wetlands, as you know Delisi does not have a science background. Delisi conducted a study and determined there was no science to back the then-current policy. What kind of subject matter expert dismisses and ignores science, well Delisi does because he is a fraud and a conman. He writes whatever he is told to. At best he is a fraud and conman man, at worse he is under control of a third party (hint he speaks Mandarin Chinese) but that is for federal law enforcement to determine. The lowlifes you listed could care less. All voters should know about these people, they are an embarrasment and quite literally dangerous.

    Monday, July 8 Report this

  • aleerandall

    Good luck on urging any Republican to do the right thing nowadays. Maybe 50 or 60 years ago but that party today, is broken and shameless!

    Monday, July 8 Report this