New Manatee elections chief, two others, seek to be State College of Florida trustees

kbergen@bradenton.comJanuary 1, 2013 

BRADENTON -- A former state senator soon to take office as Manatee elections supervisor, a Manatee County planning commissioner and the Hernando DeSoto Society's treasurer have applied for two vacant seats on the State College of Florida trustees board.

Mike Bennett, a former state senator who was just elected supervisor of elections for Manatee County in November, has reactivated an application he submitted in May. David Wick, who serves on the planning commission and the Manatee County Homebuilders Association, and Mike Hager, co-owner of Goodwood and Stone Builders and life member of the Hernando DeSoto Society, have also applied.

Bennett, a Bradenton resident, applied when a seat opened up in May, but the applicant needed to be from Sarasota. On Oct. 30, former trustees Jennifer Saslaw and Joe Miller resigned after former president Lars Hafner left the college with a $363,000 severance package. Bennett said he was asked if he was interested in reactivating his application.

"I would like to get involved in the policy decisions, and look for ways to support job creation," Ben

nett said last week.

He said he would be interesting in exploring Gov. Rick Scott's $10,000 bachelor's degree challenge, which Scott issued to state and community colleges throughout the state in November.

"I went to college on the GI Bill," said Bennett, who served in the Navy from 1963 to 1967. "I understand how important it is to keep the cost down."

Bennett served 12 years in the Florida House, including 10 in the state Senate, where he reached term limits.

But he started his career as an assistant professor at several colleges, including Drake University and Iowa State University. He served on a higher education committee while in the Senate.

Bennett said he aims to bring business experience to the table, and proactively network with economic development officials in the community, tap into which companies are operating in Florida and make sure students are trained to work in those areas.

David Wick is a retired developer and former president of Medallion Homes, which board chairman Carlos Beruff currently runs. Wick has served 18 years with the Manatee County Homebuilders Association, including as president, and serves on the state and national board as well. He spent the past six years with the Manatee County Planning Commission and is the current chairman of the county's Affordable Housing Board.

He said Monday that his background is crucial to a school that may embark on new construction projects to accommodate more students.

"Sometimes it's good to have a set of eyes that have a good idea of what things really cost," said Wick, who followed months of conflict between Hafner and trustees over the cost of projects such as the SCF's collegiate school and tennis program. Many trustees felt the costs were excessive and misrepresented. Wick said Monday that he felt the time was right to apply.

"I like getting involved when I have no pay, because I have nothing in the fire," Wick said. "It's my advice. It's my time. You can't make a difference, unless you do something."

Marlen "Rick" Hager Jr. co-owns a small contracting company with his son, and has served in every leadership position of the Hernando DeSoto Society. He's currently treasurer and a member of the board.

"I'm used to dealing with large budgets and managing and controlling large budgets," Hager said. "I have that insight and understanding."

Hager attended State College of Florida when it was Manatee Junior College, and says that the low-cost, local school was vital to him when he returned from serving in the U.S. Air Force in 1967 and wanted to stay closer to home before moving on to the University of Florida.

Hager said he still subscribes to the idea that higher education should be affordable and accessible, and wants to strive to keep tuition down and avoid frivolous spending.

"I think SCF is a vital part of our community and it has been for a long time," Hager said. "It has a track record of preparing students well for whatever futures they choose. I'd like to see that continue."

Gov. Scott will appoint the new trustees.

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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