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McClash suffers setbacks in losing efforts

MANATEE -- It can be lonely in the minority on the Manatee County Commission.

No one knows that better than Commissioner Joe McClash, a firebrand who faced opposition brutal even by his standards during Tuesday’s regular meeting as he took the losing position on four major issues.

He was called “a sore loser” and a “dais engineer.”

His proposals twice were labeled “absurd,” and the commission chairman admonished him with the phrase “Shame on you.”

Still, the commission’s most senior member walked out of the chambers claiming he was no worse for wear.

“It’s never fun to be the guy they’re throwing spears at,” said McClash, a commissioner since 1990. “But you could see at the end of the day, it’s not like there’s total discomfort as far as relationships on the board. We deal with issues and move on.”

McClash’s long day included the following setbacks:

n McClash agreed with Parrish resident Jay King, who told commissioners the roads approaching the proposed Fort Hamer Bridge should have 12-foot lanes, not the 11-foot lanes currently planned. King said narrow roads will present a danger to motorists with large trucks and buses using the bridge.

Other commissioners and Hunzeker said the county should wait for the results of an environmental impact study before discussing any changes to the project.

“Here we go again with dais engineering,” Commissioner Larry Bustle said after McClash backed King. “That’s absurd.”

McClash was unbowed.

“There’s some real issues to the approach ends of the bridge that are not part of the (environmental impact study),” McClash said. “Our staff has been unwilling to have dialogue with the community on the design of the roadways. Until they do, you’re always going to have people coming up and criticizing us.”

n The commission discussed its protocol for serving on outside boards in the wake of McClash’s push to eliminate the Tara Bridge project from the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range plan.

The county commission has voted to keep the bridge in its capital improvement plan, although there is no timetable for construction.

The MPO cut the bridge from its long-range plan during a Dec. 13 meeting.

“Mr. McClash, I’m surprised you would do something like that. You’re a seasoned veteran,” Commissioner Donna Hayes said.

Chief deputy county attorney Jim Minix told commissioners that individual commissioners can vote their conscience on outside boards, but should inform the outside board of the commission’s position.

McClash said the bridge could be put back on the MPO long-range plan if the commission insists.

n Commission voted 4-3 to approve a signage plan for River Club Plaza at the Interstate 75 and State Road 70 interchange over the objections of McClash, who said a 100-foot pole sign violated the county’s land development code.

Other commissioners said it is important to encourage businesses to locate in Manatee County during a down economy.

Commissioners Gallen and Robin DiSabatino sided with McClash.

Also Tuesday, the commission approved economic development incentives and impact fee refunds it hopes will result in the creation of 450 jobs. The projects were given code names because the businesses have not yet been made public. Project Curve, an existing manufacturer, is expected to add 361 jobs over seven years.

n Other commissioners shouted him down on the subject of David Klement, hired by county Administrator Ed Hunzeker as the organizational development manager in September to study growth strategies.

In a Monday memo to commissioners and Hunzeker, McClash argued eliminating the position could save $150,000, which he said could be used to prevent the layoffs of three lower-level employees in the next budget cycle.

Other commissioners said Klement, former Bradenton Herald editorial page editor, has been the scapegoat in a disagreement between McClash and Hunzeker over Hunzeker’s authority to hire staff members without commission input.

In September, McClash voted against the county’s budget because it included the organizational development manager position.

“Shame on you, Mr. McClash,” Chairman Carol Whitmore said. “I’m so tired if somebody loses a vote, they keep bringing it up. ... We need to move on, guys.”

Commission voted 5-2 to pass an unrelated budget resolution that McClash said he would support only if Klement’s position was axed. Commissioner Michael Gallen sided with McClash.

Klement is scheduled to make his first presentation to the commission in February.