MANATEE -- Facing major issues such as how to handle viral tourism, jammed roads and inadequate parking, five Holmes Beach candidates are set for a Nov. 5 election involving three open city commission seats.
For the roughly 3,400 registered Holmes Beach voters on Anna Maria Island, this general election is a much clearer process than how to solve the complex issues.
The top three vote-getters win seats. Choices include three incumbents:
Pat Morton, who has served 10 years on the city commission;
David Zaccagnino with eight years;
Jean Peelan, two years served; and
two challengers, C. Melissa Williams and Carol Soustek.
All attended a candidate forum Tuesday afternoon at the Bradenton Herald, 1111 Third Ave., W.
The candidates were asked the question many in Manatee County are debating: How can Holmes Beach balance the pitfalls of successful tourism, including unhappy residents due to day-trippers packing roads on weekends and holidays, with the benefits of tourism, which include jobs for island families and a flourishing economy?
"It's not an easy answer," Peelan said. "We have lost 20 percent of our residents. If we continue the way we have been, we will be a theme park in 10 years."
Peelan, an attorney, said she stands for striking a balance between resident needs and growth.
As a member of the Tourist Development Council, she said she lets fellow members know of the problems caused by the increased number of cars and people on the island and the need for infrastructure support from the Council or Manatee County Commission.
"I want to continue the effort for all three island cities to work together to find solutions," Peelan said. "I would like to encourage the work of the traffic and con
gestion committee we have going. I would like to see far more support from the county for the additional expenses tourism is creating for our city,"
If re-elected, Morton said he will fight against paid parking at the beach and work for "park-and-ride" agreements between Holmes Beach and the K-Mart on Manatee Avenue West, for example, or other locales.
He also said he believes more signs are needed to educate tourists a city road is not the place for a diaper.
"I would say 90 percent of our tourists are respectful to our residents and our city, but 10 percent are not," Morton said. "People who come to Holmes Beach need to know we are not a total tourist area."
Carol Soustek, a retired corporate accountant, has been a Holmes Beach resident 24 years. She said her strength is an unflinching faith in Holmes Beach.
"As a small child, I came to this island over a wooden bridge, listening to the planks rattle loosely," she said. "Down we went on a narrow road that had buildings on either side, and, in front of me, I saw the shining Gulf that went on forever. That vision is as strong today as then."
She stressed she wants to work creatively to make sure "everyone who comes to this island leaves with a feeling that this is where I want to come back again."
The outspoken Zaccagnino said Holmes Beach can't "pull up the bridges, shut down the local economy, raise taxes and over-govern."
"We are not in a 1950s time warp," Zaccagnino said. "It's important to realize that the world has changed and people have discovered us. You cannot stop change, only direct it in the right kind of manner. Our community is so small that everyone is affected one way or another, from the family that derives their income from tourism to the retiree who has worked hard to enjoy the serenity of our island. There has to be a balance and a fine line. It would be irresponsible for an elected official to be extreme in this case."
Williams, who goes by Melissa, has been a Holmes Beach resident 15 years and a visitor for another 10. She said she will be a public servant, not a politician.
"The recent wave of hostility toward our visitors and our neighbors is not what our community has ever been about," Williams said. "I want to put a stop to this perception and the rampant plague of intolerance. I want to return us back to a civil, welcoming and caring community."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.