Politics & Government

Bradenton Beach candidates prepare for Nov. 3 election

Ralph Cole, a longtime Bradenton Beach resident, is running for office. 
Ralph Cole, a longtime Bradenton Beach resident, is running for office. PHOTO PROVIDED

BRADENTON BEACH -- Bradenton Beach voters will decide Nov. 3 who they want in office for multiple seats, including the highly anticipated race between Bradenton Beach Mayor Jack Clarke and William Shearon, the former mayor ousted earlier this year in a special recall election.

The other candidates: Jacob "Jake" Spooner, a 36-year-old retail businessman running unopposed for the Ward 1 commissioner seat; and incumbent Ward 3 Commissioner Janie Robertson against longtime Bradenton Beach resident and businessman Ralph L. Cole.

On May 19, Clarke won a tight recall election with just 13 more votes than the ousted Shearon. The day closed a tumultuous chapter begun in late 2014 when a petition committee to recall Shearon was formed.

Bradenton Beach Commission meetings had been high tension for months prior to the recall election with then-Vice Mayor Clarke listing examples in mid-September 2014 of what he said were Shearon's failures, including city staffing issues, lack of transparency and hostile work environment claims.

Tensions remain

The tensions have seeped into the campaigns of Clarke and Shearon.

In his own campaign letter, Clarke describes Shearon's campaign as a "shopping list of half-truths, exaggerations and misrepresentations, inaccuracies and outright lies, personal attacks."

Clarke also lists tasks he "successfully resolved," which he says Shearon left incomplete. They include: drastic reduction in legal fees and the final closeout and reimbursement from Manatee County for the Historic Bridge Street Pier reconstruction project.

"I'm confident that I'm doing a better job than my predecessor," the 71-year-old Clarke said, adding he and the city commission have several projects in the works, including a stormwater project and plans to improve Bridge Street.

The mayor said he was happy the city is going in "a positive direction and not have all this name-calling."

In Shearon's campaign letter addressed to friends and neighbors, the former mayor lists what he says Clarke has done since the recall election. Shearon accused Clarke of stifling open discussion by officials during city commission meetings and stopping a citizens' initiative to enact a city moratorium on construction of oversized rental housing.

"The reason why I'm running now is to finish what I started and try to get things back on track, which is a continuation from when I entered office," the 68-year-old Shearon said.

In his campaign, Shearon writes he'd like to return transparency, evenhandedness, fiscal control and accountability to Bradenton Beach.

Clarke said he's looking forward to his next two years because the city is "going to see something happen now."

"I feel that in the 18 months that my predecessor was in office, he took credit for a lot of things that happened before he came to office, and he left a lot of things unfinished when he left office," the mayor said. "Whether that was intentional or not, I have no idea."

Like everything in government, Shearon responded, nothing is done overnight.

"You have projects that are in the process and so what you do as mayor when you take over as mayor, you complete those projects and do what's necessary to get them completed -- and that's through the commission. ... and that's what I would differ with Mr. Clarke," Shearon said.

Incumbent commissioner race

Robertson said the main reason she's running to keep her commission seat is because "the commission seems to be 4-1 in favor of the commercial entity."

"I feel very strongly that there be at least one person on there to represent residents' point of view," the 72-year-old said.

If re-elected, Robertson said her main concern would be protecting the city shoreline and dunes.

"My greatest strength is that I really do my homework. I read everything there is to read on each issue before I vote on it," she added. "No one advises me on how to vote and I know that happens a lot up there -- they'll ask the city attorney: 'What do you think about this?' and they'll vote whatever the attorney says."

Cole, who owns Bradenton Beach-based Coastal Watersports and has been living in the city for 30 years, said stability is needed at City Hall.

"I want to bring some positive things to Bradenton Beach instead of all the negative things that are going on," the 53-year-old said, adding he feels his opponent has reached her term limit.

Robertson and Cole participated in a candidate forum Sept. 29 by the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, which touched on multiple hot city topics, including a possible building moratorium and handling vacation rentals.

"When I was there in the forum, I don't know if you could feel the tension in the room and the hemming and hawing that was going on while I was talking," Cole said.

If elected, Cole said he can bring some "positive thinking" to Bradenton Beach.

"I'm a positive person. ... This is why I stepped up, to give people a choice," Cole said. "I know what the duties are."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.

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