The Nov. 5 Holmes Beach City Commission election features five candidates -- three incumbents and two challengers -- competing for three seats. Pat Morton, Jean Peelen, Carol Soustek, C. Melissa Williams and David Zaccagnino present voters some contrasting choices as the island city continues to struggle with development, tourism and traffic issues.
As a commissioner for the past eight years, Morton is proud of his accomplishments and he vows to continue representing Holmes Beach residents, not developers. At the Herald's Holmes Beach candidate forum earlier this month, he said he sometimes sided with citizens over his own thoughts.
One of his top political achievements, he says, is his role in forcing Mainsail developers into mediation with the city over the large project, which features a lodge, marina and several three-story buildings near the intersection of Gulf and Marina drives. Mediation has yet to reach a conclusion as the city negotiates changes in the project.
He considers over-development the city's most important issue while favoring controlled growth and embracing private property rights. "I feel the city has been very accepting and helpful to new development and job creation," he replied to a query by the Herald Editorial Board.
"Tourism is needed for the growth of our city," he also stated. That is certainly true since the entire island thrives on tourism, and the entire county banks on the industry for jobs and growth.
At the forum, he articulated a most welcome position on the difficult parking issue brought on by beach-goers crowding in the Manatee County Public Beach parking lot and spilling over into neighborhoods and elsewhere.
He stands against paid parking at the beach and offers common sense solutions: a park-and-ride system with off-island lots for vehicles and trolleys bringing visitors to Holmes Beach. Morton also favors agreements with Holmes Beach churches for use of their lots while not in use by congregants. Morton plans to push for both ideas, which have been in the public arena for a while.
He's also intent on controlled city spending as well as transparency and open government, the latter an issue after several non-candidate elected officials got caught up in a Sunshine incident by passing a note during a public meeting.
With his moderate position on development, support for tourism, positive solutions to parking and advocacy for transparency, Morton merits another term on the dais. The Herald Editorial Board recommends Pat Morton for Holmes Beach City Commission.
C. Melissa Williams
While a political newcomer, Williams has a number of community service accomplishments, including as chair of the Heritage Days Festival for four years, past president of the Rotary Club of Anna Maria and board membership with Cultural Connections for two years. A business owner and member of the Anna Maria Chamber of Commerce, she won the organization's Small Business of the Year award in 2009.
Little wonder that she believes city government should be operated like a business. She opposes spending and tax increases. The 2013-2014 city budget stands at a record $9 million as the commission kept the millage rate the same and declined to adopt the rollback rate -- which the state considers a tax increase since revenue increases with higher property valuations.
As a pro-business candidate and 15-year resident of the city, Williams supports the tourism industry. "Turning our back on growth or change is not a solution," she stated in response to a Herald Editorial Board inquiry. "Thriving business means a thriving community with lower taxes."
But she worries about the current political environment on the commission, particularly the negative remarks about day-trippers ruining the island. She believes the city has lost its focus and needs more balance.
"The recent wave of hostility toward our visitors and our neighbors is not what our community have ever been about. I want to put a stop to this perception and the rampant plague of intolerance," she says. "I want to return us back to a civil, welcoming and caring community."
We heartily agree.
As could be surmised, Williams is against paid parking and bridge tolls, and supports an end to Saturday-only resort check-ins to ease congestion on the roads and in the grocery stores as visitors and resort guests flood the island at the same time. By adjusting arrivals and departures, that would help road gridlock. She wants to collaborate with the county on traffic and parking issues.
With her commitment to perform as a public servant -- and not a politician -- and her views on growth and tourism, we find Williams to be a worthy candidate. The Herald Editorial Board recommends C. Melissa Williams for Holmes Beach City Commission.
An eight-year veteran of the commission, Zaccagnino has witnessed the political swing since the last election. In straightforward and tough talk, he states:
"In the last year, the new administration has swung to an extreme level of block voting and an anti-business, anti-tourism culture. Many communities like ours need to have a common sense approach in dealing with growth and qualities of life issues. As an elected official, you cannot pull up the bridges, shut down the local economy, raise taxes, and over government."
Like Williams, Zaccagnino advocates balance in government. "You cannot stop change, only direct it in the right kind of manner," he says.
One of his three priorities addresses the political climate: He wants to repair "the ill will that has been projected toward our friends and visitors," he states in answer to Editorial Board questions.
The other two are enforcing laws to bring harmony with neighbors and visitors, and to focus on budget overruns and tax increases the city experienced this past year. Zaccagnino opposed the 2013-2014 millage rate and subsequent 5.5 percent tax increase, instead supporting the rollback rate and a "fiscally responsible budget."
Alarmingly, Holmes Beach conducts a closed budget process with the city treasurer meeting privately with individual commissioners to draw up a proposal that citizens don't learn about until the first reading of the ordinance. We strongly agree with Zaccagnino that work sessions must be held in public with all commissioners attending.
During his eight-year commission tenure, Zaccagnino has served, past and present, as the city's liaison to the Anna Maria Island Chamber, the Anna Maria Island Community Center, the Parks and Beautification Committee and the Police Pension Board. His accomplishments include the creation of the Scentral Park dog spot and the establishment of the living-area ratio concept that downsizes new rental property construction -- a significant improvement in reaction to the giant vacation homes that had been sprouting up in the city.
Zaccagnino's strong views on a variety of issues, from his commitment to balanced governance to his positions on taxation and growth, will continue to served the city well. The Herald Editorial Board recommends David Zaccagnino for Holmes Beach City Commission.
On another note
This Editorial Board endorsed Jean Peelen in the last election, her first elected post in Holmes Beach. At that time we felt she was the best suited for the job and voted our conviction.
We must break ranks with her in this election because we feel that other candidates better represent the best future. We applaud her for her public service, but disagree with some of her positions during her past term. Primarily because of her remarks against day-trippers and her private email newsletter blast that attacked a developer, naming the wrong one before sending out an apology. That newsletter sparked a libel suit still in litigation.
Elected officials should only engage in civil discourse in order to foster a positive community conversation about issues. By publicly disparaging a citizen, Peelen only invited divisiveness. Voters should take note.
Candidates who do not receive the Herald Editorial Board's endorsement are invited to submit a response of up to 300 words by noon on Oct. 28. Those can be sent to email@example.com or faxed to 745-7047.