ELECTION 2011: Meet the Holmes Beach hopefuls

October 23, 2011 

On Nov. 8, voters in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria will each select three city commissioners in the only contested municipal races in Manatee County this Election Day. The top three vote-getters in both contests will win seats.

Among the five Holmes Beach candidates, three are incumbents. Commissioners serve two-year terms with other seats open in even-numbered years.

Here are the Holmes Beach candidates in alphabetical order: (Coming Monday: Anna Maria)

Pat Morton

A Holmes Beach resident since 1994 and first elected to the City Commission in 2003, Pat Morton wants to continue serving citizens.

“My vision for my community is to have a safer and more productive community,” he says.

Morton, the administrator for CrossPointe Fellowship Church, considers the city’s most important issue to be over-development of property. The construction of large vacation rental homes can’t be stopped because of a loophole in the city code, but restrictions can be placed on building plans.

“Growth can be important if it is done in a controlled situation,” he says.

He notes that the city has been very accepting and helpful to new development and job creation. “Tourism is needed for the growth of our city,” he says.

Morton supports consolidation of some municipal services such as garbage collection and building services with the island cities of Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach, but not contracting with Manatee County -- especially for law enforcement.

The Holmes Beach Police Department provides a personal touch and watches over long-time residents, both worth preserving, he says.

On the issue of the fence separating Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach. Morton blames communication failures for letting the situation spiral out of control.

Jean Peelen

Jean Peelen, a retired U.S. government employee who worked as education civil rights attorney and chief of international broadcasting, is waging her second commission campaign.

“I want Holmes Beach to continue to be the beautiful, family friendly paradise it has been in the past and can be again,” she says.

“I want a safe, secure, supportive environment for the residents of Holmes Beach. I want a balance to be created between the needs of business and the needs of residents.”

She considers the proliferation of three-story duplexes -- investor-owned rentals that are businesses being placed in neighborhoods -- as the city’s biggest issue.

“I have been knocking at doors for a month now, and am appalled to see these monster houses -- four or five bedrooms on each side -- going up next to our traditional island cottages.

“Residents are being overwhelmed by cars, trash and noise from the unwelcome rental houses. A frightening number of residents are moving or considering moving off the island. I think this is a tragedy in the making.”

As a commissioner, Peelen would call for a public meeting to hear citizen concerns, and “then hold a session to envision how we want Holmes Beach to look in five years -- in 10 years.

“Finally, I would ask for immediate action to slow or regulate the building of more giant rental houses.”

In comparing growth and change to quality of life, she says: “The sane way to proceed is to recognize that we need an economic base and we need stable neighborhoods. The trick is to find the balance. That takes thought, input from citizens, and hard work.”

Describing herself as a fiscal conservative, Peelen says Holmes Beach has done a very good job with budgeting so taxes did not need to be raised. “That is not easy, and the current commission deserves the credit for that.”

Peelen bemoans the low level of communication between the beach cities and county government.

“All too often the county seems to make decisions without prior consultation with the cities,” she says, citing the installation of lights at Kingfish boat ramp.

Al Robinson

One-term incumbent Al Robinson, who owned and operated a coal mine in West Virginia and now works in the real estate and investment market, wants to maintain the quality of life in Holmes Beach as a “low key vacation place” that preserves the “ambiance of the island for the full-time residents.”

“Friendly and without the out-of-control growth of high-rise condos,” he notes.

While Robinson sees a good balance between tourism and the community, one issue stands out. “We have some issues with rentals being out of control that need immediate attention,” he says.

He’s running for a second term because “the city continues to make poor choices with taxpayers’ money. It’s my goal to steer the city commission toward better choices.”

He cites the cost of putting one police officer on the street at about $175,000, while both Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach spend about $100,000 per officer.

When police make more than teachers and can retire at more than 90 percent of full pay, “we are out of control. ... All of my fellow commissioners voted to sweeten the police pension. I was the lone nay vote.”

Overall on the budget, he states: “Revenue does not need to increase; however, we do need to cut expenditures.”

Andy Sheridan

Also a commission candidate in 2009, Andy Sheridan hopes to foster a community balanced between residents, tourists and service businesses. “I am concerned that we might lose our family friendly neighborhoods,” he says. “I am looking at how other communities have been able to maintain their family friendly tourist business and not become a weekend party destination.”

Regarding economic growth and change versus status quo and quality of life, Sheridan believes “there are plenty of opportunities for business, particularly service businesses, to prosper in Holmes Beach. That being said, not all business models are appropriate for our community, nor would I encourage any business that would erode our quality of life.”

He also states that he is “deeply troubled that folks in the service industry who work on the island will no longer be able to live on the island, as the last of the affordable housing units are being torn down and replaced with more expensive housing.”

He applauds Holmes Beach for keeping a tight rein on the city budget and maintaining services without raising taxes.

“Hopefully the property values will start creeping up again soon,” he says. “We will then need to shepherd our funds wisely to ensure that we have no wasteful spending.”

On consolidating services, he would not discourage the other island cities from looking into contracting services from Holmes Beach, but he would maintain city law enforcement.

“The city of Holmes Beach has the best police force and dispatch in the area, and I would not be in favor of anything that would jeopardize that.”

Sheridan commends Manatee County commissioners John Chappie and Carol Whitmore for their frequent attendance at Holmes Beach commission meetings.

“They do a good job representing and communicating with us,” he says. “They also assist when communication or cooperation breaks down with one of the county departments.”

David Zaccagnino

A three-term veteran of the city commission, David Zaccagnino envisions Holmes Beach as a safe, laid-back, close-knit and friendly beach town with an old Florida feel.

“The reason I ran for commissioner six years ago was to preserve the island characteristics which I have experienced since I was 10 years old,” he says. He describes the area as “the last bastion of old Florida beach left.”

Zaccagnino, a financial adviser, says taxes, insurance and small business survival have been prevalent issues for the past several years, “but the big pressing issue right now is short-term rental impacts.”

He noted that the city is currently in the midst of a review concerning our rental license procedures, “which I hope will control the many problem issues we are having,” particularly with garbage and noise.

He supports the island’s mom-and-pop businesses, and opposes big chain stores and sky-high condo developments.

While he supports the county’s Tourist Development Council, which oversees resort tax revenues, “I do think that too many of the tourism dollars that we earn for the county goes off the island and more should come back to our community,” he says.

On government spending, Zaccagnino says the commission has kept the tax rate very low with a well-balanced budget.

“Our budget is tight and we have been very prudent in recent years and also in the ‘good’ years,” he says.

While he advocates consolidation of island services and contracts, but not cities, he would not contract with Manatee County for law enforcement.

“There are economies of scale that can save us all money and enable us to get better deals from garbage, electric, cable, gas and phone providers,” he says. “We can also save money with one island police force or public works.”

He, too, has witnessed improvements in communications with Manatee County.

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