PALMETTO -- Two of three candidates for Palmetto's Ward 3 commission seat have much in common so one is throwing his support behind the other in an attempt to unseat incumbent Commissioner Brian Williams.
John Geeslin said he does not want to divide votes between himself and Eric Gilbert, who Geeslin said shares a lot of his views on bringing accountability, transparency and accessibility to the city commission.
Geeslin and Gilbert said they believe the city is wasting Community Redevelopment Agency dollars with "pet projects." They cited the project to expand and improve the Riverside Park boat ramp as unneeded and a waste of money.
Geeslin said CRA funds would be better spent on removing slum and blight, however, the boat ramp project was funded by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the West Coast Inland Navigation District with grants won by the CRA.
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Gilbert said the project wasted millions of CRA dollars. But the project wasn't paid for by the CRA and was bid at less than $900,000.
Geeslin's financial report shows he donated $1,000 to his own campaign fund, of which only $104 was spent on his filing fee.
Gilbert has raised $2,309 and spent $2,094 to date. Most of his contributors have been residents, with additional $100 contributions from rental property businesses, including Palmetto Rental Properties and Art Rentals LLC, as well as North River Investments Inc., a property investment company. He also received a $120 in-kind contribution from Gold Coast Eagle Distribution in Sarasota for beverages related to a $200 campaign kickoff party. Other expenditures include $692 for T-shirts, $450 to OME of Bradenton to manage his email campaign, $266 in signs and $90 for parade candy.
Gilbert said he wants to improve the business climate in Palmetto.
"I love Palmetto," he said. "I passionately love this city and, as a business owner, I'm very attuned with the business economy and where it's easiest and healthiest to have a good profitable business. Unfortunately, Palmetto has not been that place and that's been some frustration for me."
He said the Palmetto Planning and Zoning Board has helped put together guidelines for the downtown development plan, "and I see things not happening the way it is supposed to."
Gilbert said spending is out of control and the city commission is in "dire need of some business financial experience. Even with grant money there is this feeling that it doesn't matter, that it's someone else's money when it's all tax dollars and we need to be held accountable. I'm not saying we shouldn't use grant money, but we need to recognize that as a city, we need to answer to our citizens."
Williams says voters should consider the city's ongoing path to success when voting Nov. 4 and cites his experience as key in updating city ordinances and to ensure zoning codes are in compliance with the city's comprehensive plan.
"Our ordinances need to be looked at from head to toe," said Williams. "There are still ordinances that refer to us as councilmen and there are others that need to be updated, which is why we are currently working on the noise and alcohol ordinances. Going through those ordinances and zoning codes is a monumental task that I don't only want to be a part of it, but should be a part of it because I think I have a lot of knowledge of what's going on in this community and why things are the way they are."
Williams said the process would suffer if a new commissioner is elected due to the "huge learning curve of new people coming in. Everyone wants to change things and make a name for themselves and we don't need that right now. There are important things going on that we need to stay on point with."
Williams said the city is on the right path and voters simply have to "look at the things we've done with quality planning."
According to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office, Williams has raised $3,200 in campaign contributions, including $500 from himself. He has $1,000 in total contributions from two different Federal Discount Beverages locations, one in Palmetto and the other in Bradenton. Other contributions include $500 from West Coast Tomato and $300 from Oakridge Apartments. Williams has spent $104 in filing fees and $680 in advertising with the North River News.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.