Manatee school board race draws candidates outside of districts

mdelaney@bradenton.comJune 13, 2014 

MANATEE -- Rumors are circulating that the two most recently declared candidates for the Manatee County school board election do not live in the areas they want to represent.

But the residences of any candidate will not be investigated by state officials unless a written complaint is filed.

The resident statuses of both Frank Brunner, a candidate for the District 4 seat, and Mary Cantrell, a candidate for the District 5 seat, have been called into question by critics. The information in their files, which is self-reported, lists them as living at acceptable addresses for their respective candidacies.

The Manatee school policy stipulates a board member must reside in the designated school board area at the time of the election and for the duration of their term on the board. The policy was adopted in March 2005 and most recently revised this March. The policies do not state how long a candidate must maintain residency before running for the school board.

Candidates fill in their information when registering to run for office, and the local supervisor of elections is not charged to make sure the information is accurate.

"We don't have that au

thority," said Mike Bennett, the Manatee County supervisor of elections.

Bennett confirmed that Brunner changed his voter registration to fall within the District 4 seat. Bennett said he had not seen a change in voter registration for Cantrell.

Brunner acknowledges that he changed his address and voter registration to be able to run for the District 4 seat, currently held by Karen Carpenter.

Brunner said when he chose to move to that district, Carpenter hadn't announced her intention to run for re-election, and it was an open seat. Brunner and his wife own a home in Palmetto on 17th Street West, according to county property records, which does not fall in the District 4 seat.

"There wasn't a candidate at the time," Brunner said, saying an incumbent normally announces a bid for re-election early on. Brunner said he signed a one-year lease on an apartment at 1805A 55th Ave. W. in May.

If elected, Brunner said he is a "man of integrity" and will stay in his residence area. Brunner said if he was not elected, then he would have to figure something out.

Cantrell does not own a home in Manatee County, according to county property records. Property records do not track renters. Cantrell could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The state elections commission cannot confirm whether a written complaint has been filed or whether it is investigating a candidate. Once a complaint is filed, an investigation and hearing will take place. The information only becomes public once a hearing has concluded.

The five school board seats are divided by geographic locations that have roughly the same population. Each school district seat represents between 62,000 and 66,000 residents.

"Each member of the School Board shall serve as the representative of the entire district, rather than as the representative of a school board member residence area," according to school board policy.

The elections are non-partisan, and all qualified Manatee County voters can cast a vote in each race.

This year, three seats are up for grabs.

The District 4 race is between Brunner and Carpenter. The District 5 race is between board chair Julie Aranibar, Cantrell and Carlton "Les" Nichols. The District 2 race is between Charles "Charlie" Kennedy and Rodney K. Jones. Barbara Harvey holds the District 2 seat and announced earlier this week she will not be seeking re-election.

The qualifying period for the school board race is June 16-20. The primary election is Aug. 26, and if a runoff is needed, it would be held Nov. 4.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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