BRADENTON BEACH -- Bradenton Beach Mayor William Shearon and the man trying to force him from office, Vice Mayor Jack Clarke, faced each other on the dais Wednesday evening in City Hall.
The opponents in the May 19 recall election answered a slew of questions before two dozen people during a League of Women Voters of Manatee County candidate forum.
Moderated by LWV Manatee board member Ashley Brown, topics included accomplishments in their respective roles, challenges facing the city and morale among city employees.
Clarke described Bradenton Beach as a city dying from the inside out as an apple from the core. He said he hopes the forum will clarify what he described as the "true situation" about the dire circumstances the city now finds itself in.
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In his opening statement, the vice mayor also rejected
the idea that the recall movement has been part of a grand plan to seize the mayor's seat.
"I see our city sinking by the day, behind the scenes, slowly spiraling downward into disaster," Clarke said. "This administration is truly a house of cards. Employee morale is non-existent as they contend daily with the mayor's version of hands-on approach to administration."
Shearon focused on accomplishments during his administration, including the reconstruction of the historic Bridge Street Pier, a new computer system and the recent global settlement he proposed to settle four lawsuits in the city at the same time.
"The pier was completed on time and below budget," Shearon said, "which is very rare for any city."
The men had different views on the greatest challenges facing the city between now and the next city election in November.
"I think the main challenge is to get ourselves all back onto one page. This recall and the forfeiture process has been very disruptive and we need to get on the same page," Shearon said. "Not only that, but we have to work on our financial situation in regards to we can't keep spending excessive funds and resources by using our reserves, which has been a concern."
Clarke said issues swept under the rug the last year and a half need to be faced.
"We have to speak the truth, abandon the rhetoric, make sure everything we say is factually correct," the vice mayor said. "We need to take care of our employees. We need to restore the morale that used to be in this city. We need to start fresh, if you would."
On issues of pay, benefits and other matters, the moderator said city employee morale has been cited as a major problem in Bradenton Beach. She asked how Clarke would improve morale if elected mayor.
"My approach to management would really improve morale," he said claiming city employees talk with him about issues they can't resolve through normal channels.
Shearon said city staff are compensated well for their efforts.
"Nobody's come to me with complaints and it's hard to correct things when you're not aware of the complaints," Shearon said.
On the proliferation of houses-turned-vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, Clarke said the issue would be one of his top priorities.
Shearon described it as a difficult challenge and said he's been working closely with other island mayors in trying to address it.
In related news, Bradenton Beach resident John Metz dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday after a temporary injunction he requested was denied by Manatee Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith Jr. the day prior at a court hearing. A regular at city meetings, the 72-year-old Metz wanted Clarke booted from the recall ballot and a temporary injunction prohibiting Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett from printing additional recall ballots with the vice mayor's name on them. Metz claimed Clarke's written resignation was not submitted at least 10 days prior to the first day of qualifying for the office. Clarke, who testified there was no way he could have applied to qualify in the recall election sooner, had to resign from his commission seat before submitting an application to qualify as a candidate.
"The election may make the suit moot or if Clarke wins it could create a giant quagmire for the City," Metz said in an email to a Herald reporter. "Mayor Shearon has persuaded me that it would be in the best interest of the City to let the election proceed without the shadow of Clarke's challenged eligibility."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.