Politics & Government

In their words: Bradenton city council candidates discuss affordable housing, 14th Street West

Candidates for Bradenton City Council for Ward 3 and Ward 4.
Candidates for Bradenton City Council for Ward 3 and Ward 4.

Two Bradenton City Council incumbents face re-election challenges this year. Patrick Roff, the incumbent for Ward 3, is seeking a fourth four-year term. Bemis Smith, the incumbent for Ward 4, has been in office since 2002.

The seat for Ward 2, held by Gene Brown since 2012, was also up for re-election, but he ran unopposed.

In this Bradenton Herald questionnaire, candidates answered questions about affordable housing, Bradenton's entertainment district and why they are the best candidate.

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Ward 3

What is your background (family, job, hobbies)?

Pat Roff 09-4093 (2).jpg
Incumbent Bradenton City Council Ward 3 Patrick Roff. Provided photo
(Incumbent) Patrick Roff

: My wife Barbara and I are a happily married couple of 36 years. We purchased our current Ware’s Creek Bradenton residence in 1988. Public service is a way of life in the Roff household. Our daughter Emily works with autistic children as a Speech and Language Pathologist and is currently pursuing her doctorate. She served her church from second grade through college, the same church where I served on the Parish Council and Finance Committees and as the Capital Campaign Director. Barbara is a 31-year Manatee County teacher and MHS library media specialist. She too volunteered in the church as a pre-school Catechism instructor and later as a Youth Group Leader. Concerning my occupation, before my election, I owned and operated a successful family aboriculture business in the city of Bradenton for 20 years. When elected, I retired my business to serve as a full-time Councilman as promised. My hobbies include studying Revolutionary and Civil War history, visiting historical sites and our great national park system, creating visual art, and touring art museums.

Bradenton City Council Ward 3 candidate Cornelia Winn. Provided photo
Cornelia Winn

: I was born in Tampa, but I’ve spent nearly all of the last 30 years in Bradenton. Most of my mother’s family is still in the Netherlands though, so despite living in one place most of my life, I still have gotten the chance to travel and see a lot of the world. While I’ve been to many beautiful places, after every trip I am glad Bradenton is the place I call home. My parents are both entrepreneurs, which meant I grew up in the business world and absorbed a tremendous amount of knowledge through early experience. “Entrepreneur” often sounds more glamorous than what it is in reality. I didn’t grow up on a yacht, or live in a mansion. I spent most of my time outside of school activities sweeping floors, cleaning horse stalls or helping make deliveries. I didn’t always appreciate it then, but working for my parents was a fantastic learning experience and it gave our family more opportunities to spend time together. That is something I appreciate more now that I have my own daughter, who I miss terribly during my 9-5 corporate workday. The entrepreneur gene is strong though, which is why I also do freelance marketing work and manage Airbnb rental houses on the side. It wasn’t only school and work growing up, though. I played several sports in high school and continued playing volleyball through college and occasionally still as an adult, when I can. Having a daughter has brought a new set of hobbies, though. Most weekends you’ll find me at the park, Riverwalk and Lewis are her favorites, or maybe at one of the events in town like the Village Art Walk Weekends or downtown farmers market.

What are the issues in your ward you feel are most important?

(Incumbent) Patrick Roff: I am very proud of the fact that the city responded to my forward-thinking requests to engage in a massive infrastructure repair plan which went into action in 2012. One such project involved the repair and replacement to date of almost half of Ward 3’s streets, water lines, and sewer lines. Ward 3 is one of our oldest neighborhoods. We began infrastructure repair with a modest budget and expanded it annually to its current figure of approximately 2 million dollars a year in investments without a tax increase or cut back on services in other areas. Before the enaction of this plan, I believed street conditions due to cut through traffic was our worst issue; therefore, continuing this infrastructure replacement is one of Ward 3’s highest priorities: to improve the quality of life in our many neighborhoods.

Cornelia Winn: It’s no secret that technology has been put on the backburner for the City of Bradenton. We have seen a few minor advancements in recent years, but common sense conveniences for our residents, like being able to sign up for utilities payments online, don’t appear to be on the horizon. Improvements in technology mean improvements for our city in a variety of ways from everyday conveniences to major driving factors for business growth. Our technological stagnation is a symptom of a greater problem on Bradenton City Council: Diversity. I’m not referring to a lack of diversity regarding gender or ethnicity, although that exists too, but of background and expertise. There isn’t a single city council member with a background anywhere close the technology field, which explains why it has been left so far behind. My entire professional workday is spent maintaining and updating an online system in order to ensure it is servicing it’s users efficiently and effectively, which is likely why the glaring online service gaps within the city are so noticeable. My entire adult career has involved different uses of technology, which has allowed me to develop a well rounded knowledge of the field. I’ve worked as the unofficial one-woman IT department for a local insurance broker, done several years in digital marketing and now I work as a database administrator. I love my job and I’m excited about the opportunity to bring about a much needed online overhaul to our city.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected/re-elected?

(Incumbent) Patrick Roff: When I initially ran for office, I had two very bold and ambitious plans. First, I dedicated my public service to clean up the city’s biggest eyesores and detractors, Ware’s Creek and 14th Street. Since the late 50’s, no one had figured out the bureaucratic puzzle that was Ware’s Creek. Due to my ability to work with others, through lobbying in Washington and Tallahassee and dealing with seven government agencies, I helped to obtain the coveted DEP dredge permit which allowed the project to move forward to completion. According to Manatee County’s Chief Ecosystem Engineer, Charlie Hunsicker, Ware’s Creek is now an asset rather than a detriment to our city. My second agenda is to revitalize 14th Street or Tamiami Trail. We have made much headway since I took office, and I am now ready to use the full force of the 14th Street CRA, of which I am chairman, the MPO, our Planning Department, and newly created Economic Development Department, to finish the rejuvenation.

Cornelia Winn: I’m passionate about technology and all the ways it can serve Bradenton, but one change I’d like to accomplish is having a city government that actually seeks to have involved citizens. There are so many easy and cost effective ways for the city to communicate with its residents, like Facebook or email newsletters, but we aren’t using any of them. City planning meetings, involvement opportunities and other updates shouldn’t only be for those who have the time to dig through a less-than-user-friendly website, or have the ability to attend city council meetings that are held when most of us have to be at work. There are a number of easy ways to make the people of Bradenton feel ownership of our city, but we have to elect people who want to make that happen.

Affordable housing is needed in Bradenton. What can be done to entice more developers to work on these projects?

(Incumbent) Patrick Roff: The City of Bradenton is and has been aggressively pursuing tax credit projects through multiple development companies. The best example of tax credit affordable housing in all of Manatee County is the new Grand Palms on 14th St. I have become good friends with Tim Morgan of Jonesboro Investments Corporation, who successfully acquired the tax credits and developed and oversaw this project. He and I along with the EDC Director are working together on similar projects, with Tim acting as an advisor and sharing his knowledge for the good of the city. I have completed the challenging Florida Redevelopment Certification course which stressed housing as a redevelopment tool. I have already proven my ability to accomplish a near impossible feat with Ware’s Creek and will now focus the same unyielding attention on affordable housing in our CRA areas.

Cornelia Winn: I fully support the use of incentives and grants to encourage builders to provide affordable housing to the people who need it in Bradenton. I spent several years as a single mom, so I understand there are times when you need help getting back on your feet. It’s important for the people in our city to be have a place to live during a transitional period or time of need in their lives, whether it be long or short term. In addition to affordable housing, the city needs to continue to work towards bringing jobs and economic prosperity to our area. Wherever possible, it would be fantastic if affordable housing were used as a launching pad towards providing a better future for the people here. No one wants to live in affordable housing forever if they have other opportunities. SCF and MTI are both fantastic resources for people who are looking to start a new career or better themselves through continuing education. The city needs to make sure it is doing it’s part to bring businesses and job opportunities to our area so our residents can start their career after school, without having to move to another city. Entrepreneurs and established businesses are relying more heavily everyday on the power of data when making decision on where to launch their next venture. Many other metropolitan areas have developed impressive tools for encourage economic growth in their area. www.TampaEDC.com is the perfect example. The City of Bradenton should be working with the Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization to develop similar resources.

14th Street West is turning a corner for redevelopment. What do you plan to do to help improve this corridor?

(Incumbent) Patrick Roff: Thank you for noticing the redevelopment changes that have taken place under my watch on 14th Street. They were neither quick nor easy. I commonly say at Council meetings that urban redevelopment is the most difficult of all government enterprises. Before my election as a private citizen, I attended all the Tamiami Tomorrow workshops funded by the DDA where we created a map for redevelopment. In 2007, I was one of four elected officials, chosen by some of the best land planners in Florida, to participate in the Design Institute study of the Tamiami Tomorrow Strategic Plan at Scripps Laboratory in Jupiter, Florida. Unfortunately, the great recession of 2008 stalled its enactment, yet this document is still as pertinent today as it was then. I will activate the Tamiami Tomorrow Strategic Plan and with my drive, skill set, connections, and proven ability, the revitalization of 14th Street will be realized.

Cornelia Winn: By now, you can probably already guess my answer to this questions, “By using technology.” In every one of these questions I’ve mentioned how improvements in technology would vastly improve the lives of our citizens, and this applies to the 14th Street West corridor too. Through time and partnership with surrounding metropolitan areas, we could develop a resource that would enable tremendous business growth in our area. Using the Tampa/Hillsborough EDC as an example again, you can see a fantastic example of ways other areas are using data as a tool to drive development. Data on real estate, demographics and growth projections, target industries, business services and investment opportunities would all be helpful in showing why the City of Bradenton is the place where entrepreneurs should start their next successful company. The sky's the limit for what we could do in our area, but we need leadership with the knowledge to make it happen.

Ward 4

What is your background (family, job, hobbies)?

Bradenton City Council Ward 4 candidate Bill Sanders Provided photo
Bill Sanders

: My wife, Ellen and I have three children, four grandchildren and one great grandchild. We enjoy golfing, boating, and time on the motorcycle. Born and raised on a farm in southern Indiana, I developed a good work ethic and strong moral values working alongside my father and grandfather on our family farm. Graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Business. I have over four decades of Business Management in finance and marketing.

Incumbent Bradenton City Council Ward 4 member Bemis Smith. Manatee County Supervisor of Elections
(Incumbent) Bemis Smith

: My wife of 22 years, Teri, and my 3 children were born and raised in this area. All three kids are Manatee High graduates. Our daughter lives in Los Angeles and works in the Interior Design industry. Our two sons attend college at my alma mater, Sewanee, The University of the South. I am a general contractor and have had my construction business in Manatee County for nearly 25 years; primarily building warehouse and industrial projects. Prior to settling permanently in the Bradenton area, I worked as a political consultant on campaigns in a variety of states and spent 4 years in Washington as an appointee at the US Department of Housing and Development serving under Secretary Jack Kemp; ending my time as the HUD representative to the Presidential Task Force for Hurricane Andrew. While I enjoy hiking, camping, fishing and golf, my primary “hobbies” have been activities with my family and working as the incumbent Bradenton Ward 4 City Councilman as well as various volunteer activities in the community and through my church.

What are the issues in your ward you feel are most important?

Bill Sanders: In visiting with residents of Ward 4, several have mentioned the condition of streets, sidewalks, curbing, storm sewer drainage issues, and overall beautification of existing properties working with property owners to remove downed trees, etc. My plan is to continue reaching out to our residents. I would invite anyone to contact me at phone number 941-544-8331 or email me at iambillsanders@aol.com.

(Incumbent) Bemis Smith: Ward 4 covers downtown north of Manatee Ave and east of 9th St, W to I-75. This is a diverse area including the more urbanized areas along the Riverwalk, moving through the historic neighborhood of Old Manatee and eastward through both established neighborhoods like River Isles and new communities such as Tidewater Preserve. In those eastern areas, the issues that we have addressed in the past have been more oriented to the community interaction with new development and the maintenance of our infrastructure in established communities. Crime is down and infrastructure improvements are up. Our efforts have been largely effective which allows the City to focus on the primary issue of Ward 4 which is the revitalization of the area running along the River from Manatee Memorial Hospital to the Braden River. Redevelopment is never easy but I believe we are seeing results bringing vibrant new projects such as Riverwalk East while maintaining the important historical aspects of the area as an important settlement community south of Tampa Bay and the original settlement in Manatee County. Our biggest challenge is going to be managing the interaction between the new developments and the interests of longtime residents. The City, like other organizations, is not perfect. We don’t always get every street light and pot hole fixed as quickly as we might like but we have a great team of officials and employees in place to implement the improvements we have outlined for the ward.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected/re-elected?

Bill Sanders: We need to plan for the future and at the same time be financially responsible. Extensive planning needs to be done in several areas. However, before we can move on these we need to have a true vision with a strategic plan and financial projections. Starting on projects without a completed plan jeopardizes projects in the future and the trust of our residents.

(Incumbent) Bemis Smith: I look forward to working, as I have in the past, to promote the changes I referred to previously. With the help of the community and my colleagues on City Council, we were able to get the foundation set for the development and revitalization of much of Ward 4 including the creation of Riverwalk and the construction of more downtown housing. Unfortunately, due to the Great Recession many of the spin off improvements of these efforts, as well as the extension of these successes to the east, stalled. Over the past few years we have been able to actively work to bring these efforts to fruition and I plan to complete much of the work on these projects over the coming 4 years. One example of our efforts are the developing plans for the eastward extension of Riverwalk to end at Mineral Springs Park. While I opposed the original plans for the development of Glazier-Gates Park and the removal of the grand oaks, when it became apparent that the votes were going in favor of the project, I worked to get an additional $600,000 from the developers for adding park land along the river. Since that time the City has been able to triple the size of Mineral Springs Park, in conjunction with a local non-profit and by using the developer funds to purchase adjacent land along the river with a beautiful tree canopy. This park will now make a great terminus for Riverwalk East and will highlight the history of our community into the future.

Affordable housing is needed in Bradenton. What can be done to entice more developers to work on these projects?

Bill Sanders: Bradenton, like many Florida communities, has a shortage of affordable housing. Future opportunities need to be developed with transparency to our community with community input. Building safe structures affordable for the younger residents should be a higher priority. We need work with community and developers to identify those needs and how the city can help.

(Incumbent) Bemis Smith: Like most coastal communities in Florida, Bradenton needs more affordable housing options but they need to be targeted to work force and Millennial housing. Bradenton currently has a greater percentage of affordable housing than many of the surrounding governmental jurisdictions and we should be proud of the efforts made in the past to develop low income projects, rebuild the Rogers Public Housing project as the current Bradenton Village and to use federal tax dollars to assist needy homeowners to improve their homes. However, I believe that it is important for us now to find incentives and lower governmental barriers even further to encourage development of not just low income housing but housing specifically targeted toward the workers we need in our community. With Manatee County’s 3 largest private employers in or adjacent to Ward 4, we have the proximity for creating successful projects for working families and Millennials as we show that the community is providing the safety and amenities that these citizens are seeking. Success breeds success.

Can Old Manatee Village become an entertainment district? What can be done to attract redevelopment there?

Bill Sanders: With the additional growth of housing units in the area, there needs to be businesses to compliment the area. We need to work with the community and existing businesses to identify business types needed to support the growth of this area. The city needs to fulfill its commitment to see completion of the Riverwalk and park in this area.

(Incumbent) Bemis Smith: The term “entertainment district” has been loosely used to describe the City’s efforts to promote the Old Manatee community but this term can be deceiving. My vision for this area has been as a destination much like Old Main Street in downtown that has a broad offering of restaurants, shops, bars, and entertainment venues that make a walkable community; a place that is exciting to live but not necessarily like more traditional “entertainment districts” such as Ybor City to our north. We have a good foundation for success with the long term businesses already in operation and last year City Council voted to allow for increased noise levels in the area to encourage businesses to open in the area. As I noted before, we have many of the necessary factors in place to attract more redevelopment including housing units being built within an easy walk, the easing of noise restrictions that now compare to other similar successful areas throughout the country and the availability of funding through the Bradenton Community Redevelopment Agency as well as other incentives from our newly established Economic Development office. At this point, the expansion of Riverwalk and the continued promotion of the safety, walkability and the proximity to good jobs should finish the work that is already underway with minor corrections as we proceed. This will allow private investors to drive the development that the market desires.

As Riverwalk expands eastward, what do you want to see there?

Bill Sanders: The Riverwalk is a great asset. Expansion needs to continue to provide to access to developed areas. Realize Bradenton has done awesome in organizing events to promote our Riverwalk and Bradenton.

(Incumbent) Bemis Smith: I worked to insure that Riverwalk East is a suitable continuation of the existing Riverwalk that doesn’t mimic it and offers activities not particularly suited for the current Riverwalk. I continue to work for a Riverwalk that is themed to the historic nature of this part of town but offers a beautiful backdrop for exercise, walking, jogging and biking. My vision is an area in the Old Manatee business district that offers options for shopping and dining, down to the River where we have a children’s park in conjunction with a larger field for outdoor play and picnicking and then ending at an expanded and improved Mineral Springs Park with it’s existing dock for waterfront activities and beautiful areas promoting the diverse history of our community. Ultimately, I would like to find ways to tie this park area into the Manatee Historical Park located just to the south either by expanding the Historical Park to the north or through a less physical connection. When completed, this vision should provide a great connection for the neighborhoods along the river to the east to the current downtown while providing a welcoming, safe community for new residents and businesses to flourish.