Race for Palmetto mayor heating up. Experienced politicians challenge Groover Bryant

Who’s running for mayor in Palmetto?

A snapshot of three candidates for mayor in Palmetto.
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A snapshot of three candidates for mayor in Palmetto.

For the first time since she was elected mayor of Palmetto in 2008, Shirley Groover Bryant next year will face at least two opponents as she seeks her fourth term as mayor of Palmetto.

Her opponents are Charles Smith, a former city commissioner who last year lost his bid for re-election to the Manatee County Commission; and current Palmetto City Commissioner Jonathan Davis. They filed last month.

“There’s always that possibility that someone will run for the seat, but you certainly do the best job you can and I’ll continue to do that,” Groover Bryant said.

Groover Bryant was first elected as mayor in 2008, when she defeated two opponents. She ran uncontested for re-election in 2012 and 2016.

Prior to being elected mayor, Groover Bryant served as a city commissioner from 1993 to 2004 and worked for 15 years at the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office, and as chief financial officer for Manatee School for the Arts.

Groover Bryant, a Palmetto native, graduated from Palmetto High School, Manatee Community College and Florida Southern College, according to a news release in May announcing her bid for re-election.

“I think it’s to go into the position with a lot of strength, education, background and experience. It helps to make for better elected officials and that’s what I offer,” Groover Bryant said.

Groover Bryant touted plans for the Complete Street project coming to 10th Avenue and future connection of the trail systems in the city.

“It’s very important so the public knows what the main issues are and the importance of those in their day-to-day lives. That’s what I’ll be continually talking about — improvements that have been made and are slated to be made and hope they see the benefit of those,” Groover Bryant said.

Davis was elected to city commission in 2012. A life-long Palmetto resident and Palmetto High School graduate, Davis owns and operates Captain JL Davis Charter Fishing.

While serving as a commissioner, Davis was elected vice mayor three times and has represented Palmetto on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the Palmetto Historic Commission and numerous other organizations, according to his biography on the city’s website.

In 2016, Davis entered and later withdrew from the race for the District 1 seat on Manatee County Commission. He chose instead to run for re-election to his at-large seat on the Palmetto commission. Now, with nearly two terms as a city commissioner under his belt, Davis said he could see himself as mayor.

“Being on (city commission), looking over the budget, looking out for infrastructure, the city police department and officers and all the employees, it gives you a better perspective on the job of being a mayor,” Davis said.

Davis was excited for the same projects as Groover Bryant and said once the 10th Avenue project is done residents will see an increase of people and businesses wanting to come to town, hopefully reviving it to be more like the “Old Palmetto.”

Davis said if elected, something he would focus on is the city’s infrastructure; once things are set underground, then the city can build something up from there to last for future generations, he said.

Smith is a former Manatee County commissioner who represented District 2, which includes parts of Bradenton, Palmetto and Ellenton, for one term and previously served as a Palmetto city commissioner after first being elected in 1990 and later served as vice mayor.

“The time to run is when you feel like things are not going right,” Smith said.

In his campaign, Smith said he would focus on city funds, working to bring in new business and economic development as well as growing the city’s population.

“We need to bring in grants and decent housing. We need to move the city forward,” Smith said.

In 2018, Smith was unseated as county commissioner by Reggie Bellamy. Smith had called for the leader of the Palmetto Youth Academy to resign, citing several concerns and claims that turned out to be inaccurate. He also filed an elections violation complaint against Bellamy, accusing him of not properly disclosing campaign funds. Local law enforcement also investigated the elections complaint and were told by the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office a mistake was found in Bellamy’s filings, which were amended and accepted.

All candidates noted the importance of pursing outside funding for city improvements.

In campaign funds, Groover Bryant has a head start on fundraising.

Groover Bryant raised $2,450 in contributions in the month of May, according to the Supervisor of Elections website. Nearly half of which comes from local developer Pat Neal. Other contributions came from several local attorneys and Groover Bryant donated $200 to her own campaign.

So far, there have been no contributions or expenditures for Davis’s or Smith’s campaigns.

Meet the Candidates

Name: Charles Smith

Age: 55

Occupation: Manatee Harvesting Company, Inc.

Education: Graduated from Palmetto High School

Manatee County commission District 2 incumbent Charles B. Smith. Manatee County Government

Name: Jonathan L. Davis

Age: 53

Occupation: Charter fishing captain, city commissioner

Education: Graduated from Palmetto High School

Jonathan Davis photo.jpg
Provided photo

Name: Shirley Groover Bryant

Age: 71

Occupation: Mayor of Palmetto

Education: Graduated from Palmetto High School, Manatee Community College and Florida Southern College

Cities stand united fifth
Shirley Groover Bryant is running for her fourth term as Palmetto mayor. Provided