Official meetings of the Board of County Commissioners can drag on all day, but you don’t need to sit through them to let Manatee officials know how you feel.
In a county known for its fast-paced growth, residents are bound to have thoughts on all kinds of issues, both big and small. Thankfully, there’s are numerous outlets for input — you just have to know where to go.
Contact your commissioner
Each of the seven county commissioners are elected officials tasked with representing their respective districts. These are the people you should reach out to give feedback specific to a certain area of the county or about topics scheduled for future board meetings.
District 1 — Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace — email@example.com
District 2 — Commissioner Reggie Bellamy — firstname.lastname@example.org
District 3 — Commissioner Stephen Jonsson — email@example.com
District 4 — Commissioner Misty Servia — firstname.lastname@example.org
District 5 — Commissioner Vanessa Baugh — email@example.com
At Large — Commissioner Betsy Benac — firstname.lastname@example.org
At Large — Commissioner Carol Whitmore — email@example.com
According to Nick Azzara, the county’s information outreach manager, each commissioner has a certain preference for how to contact them, but they make sure to read all of their emails. The commission’s page on the Manatee County website includes phone numbers and email addresses for each representative.
Sending an email is a reliable method for letting commissioners know your opinion on certain subject, including an upcoming agenda item. Any written contact with county staff, however, is subject to Florida Sunshine Law and will become available for public review.
Being specific is the name of the game, county staff say, and it’s preferred to mention only one issue and clearly explain your point.
“Tell the Commissioner what effect you think a particular issue will have on you, your children, business or community. Be concise but specific,” the county website says. “Suggest a course of action and offer assistance. Never make promises or threats.”
If an email is regarding a specific agenda item, county staff will proactively make those letters public record and include them in the meeting agenda. Those interested in more of a conversation are also invited to schedule in-person meetings with commissioners by calling (941) 745-3700.
“If you’re able to meet with your commissioner and articulate on your behalf, or the behalf of a group of people, clearly, that goes a long way,” Azzara said.
Citizen Action Center
For minor issues, it’s recommended to reach out to the Citizen Action Center, a help desk dedicated to routing your problems (potholes, code enforcement, general questions, etc.) to the right people.
“They receive probably 15,000 calls a year,” Azzara said.“They track the calls that come in and try to give updates to callers within 10 business days.”
Attend a public meeting
Commissioners meet about four times a month in meetings that are open to the general public. A host of important decisions are made during those meetings, so keeping tabs is one of the best ways to follow along and keep track of issues that residents may want to weigh in on.
Anyone who attends those meetings is given ample opportunity to take to the podium and give commissioners their input.
“During each of those meetings, commissioners allow public comment on everything voting for that day, future agenda items and a chance to bring some other issue to the board’s attention,” Azzara said.
But not everyone has time to sit through an all-day meeting at the County Administration building in downtown Bradenton. That’s when emailing the commissioners comes in handy. Email gives those who can’t attend a chance to let commissioners know what’s on their mind.
For more significant proposals that come before the board, community meetings in the affected area are typically scheduled, giving more people the chance to attend.
If you’re really dying to know what’s going on in the county, it’s best to get involved directly. That opportunity comes in the form of advisory boards, volunteer positions and more.
There are at least 20 boards for citizens to participate on, giving them the chance to directly inform board decisions. It’s a big time commitment, though. Another angle could be to get involved in community groups, Azzara said.
“My advice is to get involved in clubs, make friends and join groups like chambers of commerce or homeowners associations with impactful voices. A lot of those groups are good places to learn from word of mouth and keep an eye out for what’s happening with local government,” he explained. “It’s easier to get involved in the process early on than at the last minute.”
But at the end of the day, many don’t feel compelled to speak out until there’s a tiny yellow sign near their home announcing a new development.
“Government tends to work in the background of our lives and people don’t tend to get involved until something goes wrong,” Azzara said. “What folks needs to do stay informed and give that feedback early in the process.”