MANATEE -- Manatee County elected Dave "Watchdog" Miner, a Bradenton attorney who for decades has championed transparency and accountability, won election to the District 2 school board seat Tuesday.
The long-time education advocate will join board members trying to rebuild fractured trust and a flawed system after a major budget fiasco in the district this September.
Miner beat opponent and Lakewood Ranch high school teacher Robert Moates on Tuesday night, capturing 63 percent of the vote or 77,328 votes. Moates trailed behind with 37 percent, or 44,537 votes.
Miner gathered with supporters, friends and family at A Touch of Class restaurant in Bradenton Tuesday night and said the district was long overdue for change.
"I've been saying for a long time that this district, business-wise, is heading for a train wreck," Miner said. "That train wreck happened. This vote today by the community is a mandate for changing those practices."
Miner has been an active participant in the Manatee County community and a constant presence at school board meetings for years. He's called for changes in both internal and external auditing and the district's level of transparency concerning its finances.
Miner will replace board chairman Harry Kinnan, who he ran against unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2004. Kinnan decided not to run for reelection after serving on the board since 1996.
On Tuesday, supporters hugged and congratulated Miner, who just missed clinching the majority in the August primary. He had 19,211 votes, or 48.5 percent, in the race for the District 2 seat; and Moates had 12,234, or 31 percent.
But less than a month later, the stakes changed dramatically after the district announced a $3.5 million budget deficit caused by administrators who failed to budget for millions in teachers' salaries, as well as other expenses.
When former superintendent Tim McGonegal admitted he'd known about the errors for a month before revealing them to the board, it became clear that the new school board member would be crucial to building back trust within the district.
Moates, who worked for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Florida Legislature for years before becoming a teacher in 2003, watched the campaign results come in at his Bradenton home. Moates, who had promised to return focus to the classroom throughout his campaign, said Tuesday that he had no regrets about a campaign that allowed him to meet district teachers and push forward their voice.
"I'm thrilled with the campaign," Moates said. "I'd like a different result. But I'm honored and happy for all the people that have supported me."
Miner officially joins the board Nov. 20. Soon after, the board must meet for communication training with their new member and continue the search for a new superintendent.
The results of a forensic investigation prompted by the budget disaster also will come to light as Miner adjusts to his new position.
Miner says he's ready for the challenge and eager to focus on students.
"I'm really happy for the children of Manatee County that the votes of this wonderful community put their arms around the idea that our children deserve the best possible," he said.
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941.745.7081.