With questions focused on improving the lives of minorities, Manatee County School Board and Bradenton City Council candidates shared their plans and visions with members of the Manatee County Black Chamber of Commerce with less than three weeks to go before the election.
At Touch of Class Lounge on Thursday, nine candidates from four different races answered a series of questions from members of the chamber. Those in attendance included Manatee County School Board District 1 candidates Gina Messenger and Ed Viltz; Manatee County School Board District 3 incumbent Dave Miner and challenger Misty Servia; Bradenton City Council Ward 5 incumbent Harold Byrd and challenger Keenan Wooten; and Bradenton City Council Ward 1 incumbent Gene Gallo and challengers Devon Davis and Tami Spyker Goudy.
All the candidates are on the Nov. 8 ballot. Voters across the entire county will vote for school board candidates. Voters in the city of Bradenton, regardless of which ward they live in, can vote in the city council races.
School Board District 1
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Both Messenger and Viltz agreed that teachers and instruction should cater to the specific students in front of them, adding more local control is necessary so teachers have the freedom to adapt their curriculum to fit student needs. They both agreed that school resource officers in schools can help create a better relationship between students and police.
Candidates were also asked to give their views on the Black Lives Matter movement.
Messenger said she understand how the Black Lives Matter came to be and understood the mission.
“I firmly believe that all lives matter, every single one of us,” she said.
“All lives do matter, but that’s really not the issue,” Viltz countered, saying that if carried out correctly, the Black Lives Matter movement would be able to affect as much change as the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
School Board District 3
Parent involvement is key, and the district needs to work better to make sure its reaching more parents by diversifying the way it sends messages home, Servia said in a response to a question.
If elected, Servia said she plans to hold town hall meetings in the community and expand volunteerism opportunities at schools.
“Not everybody is receiving the same feedback,” Servia said, advocating for more methods than an automatic phone call from Superintendent Diana Greene and saying notices home should be sent in multiple languages.
“Your school board is doing all the things Ms. Servia is talking about,” Miner countered, adding the schools do a good job of hosting different events, like the Donuts with Dads day to help get families more involved.
Both candidates said if they were not elected to office, they would continue to advocate for children and the school district.
City Council Ward 1
City council candidates posed differing views on why they are the best choice for city residents.
“I think we’re very, very bored here,” Davis said. “It’s just important that we bring in the community.”
Gallo said working in public service and being on the city council was a way of life for him.
“I do what I want, and I want to do what I’m doing,” he said.
Goudy said she knows what it’s like to start from the ground up, especially when it came to running a business.
“I know what it’s like. I want to be the voice of the people.”
City Council Ward 5
In the last session of the night, Ward 5 candidates discussed ways they thought Bradenton could get out in front of the heroin epidemic in the city.
Wooten said he’d like to find ways to work with the school district and restore programs like DARE that teach children as young as elementary school age to reject drugs.
Byrd advocated a three-prong approach, including law enforcement, prevention and rehabilitation programs.
In selling voters, Byrd said he wanted to continue to serve Bradenton.
“We know Bradenton, and Bradenton you know me,” he said.
Wooten said he offered a fresh perspective.
“I want to bring new leadership and a brighter tomorrow,” he said.