Manatee commissioner: It's a 'sad day' when candidates speak at public hearing

cschelle@bradenton.comNovember 8, 2013 

MANATEE -- Early campaigning has begun for the 2014 Manatee County Board of Commissioners race, but the barbs are already in midseason form.

County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, District 5, jabbed at-large Democrat candidate Terri Wonder during Thursday's public hearing regarding establishing an urban service area.

Wonder, a Democrat, spoke in favor of an amended urban service area requiring added state review in coastal evacuation zones, as Long Bar Pointe would be the key project in that zone. Wonder is so far running against Carol Whitmore, a Holmes Beach Republican and incumbent.

"I do think that a government has a compelling interest to consider public safety as something that is far more important than the narrow interest of a handful of land owners," Wonder said in her closing remarks.

Former county Commissioner Jane von Hahmann also spoke in favor of removing the Long Bar Pointe site from the urban service area, but von Hahmann has not yet filed nor publicly expressed interest in running.

Baugh said she didn't like who decided to speak at the hearing.

"I think that it's a sad day that candidates get up here in front of the commission and make it about developers, because this is not what this is about," Baugh said.

She stressed that point in earlier remarks, defending developers while attacking certain audience members.

"It seems like to me what I'm hearing up here in some ways are political hopefuls who are just trying to be heard, and I don't think that's right," Baugh said. "That's not what this is about, and y'all can sit there and laugh if you want, but that's not what this is about. No it's not. We're trying to make a good decision for Manatee County, and I think we need to try and remember that."

Baugh's comments earned some groans from the crowd, including resident Nancy Dean who shouted "how disrespectful" to Baugh.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, appeared puzzled by Baugh's remarks and reminded her fellow commissioners that they were once in the audience, too.

"I know when I was a candidate I sat in the audience, and you all sat in the audience. I'm thrilled when people, come because most of the time we're talking to two or three people and reporters and staff," said DiSabatino, who has not yet filed for re-election in District 4. "People take time out of their day, they plan, they mind the meters and public input is very, very important in this process. We don't know what you're thinking, and we assume you're OK with it unless we hear otherwise.

"Everyone has the right to speak. Whether their opinions are the same or different from ours, they're not wrong or right, they're their opinions. I just want to thank everyone for coming and spend time on this."

Baugh's seat isn't up until 2016.

Whitmore stayed out of the back-and-forth and focused on a discussion with Commissioner Betsy Benac over the necessity of the urban service area along the coastal areas.

Other commission seats up for grabs include Districts 2 and 4. So far Incumbent Michael Gallen, a Democrat, faces Democratic primary challengers Corie Holmes and Charles Smith in District 2, while Timothy Norwood, a Republican, is the lone candidate so far for the District 4 seat held by DiSabatino, also a Republican.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter@ImYourChuck.

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