Manatee County Commission candidates clash in debate

MANATEE -- A veteran in government and a newcomer to public life Thursday clashed on county budget priorities, and over who listens more closely to voters, in the Manatee County Commission District 1 race.

Incumbent Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle and newcomer Corie Holmes took part in a debate hosted by The Bradenton Herald and broadcast by Manatee Educational Television.

Asked what impact he hoped to have, Holmes, a Democrat, replied he would put the public first and listen to its needs, saying, "Our community has been neglected."

He complained about high crime rates and a dearth of boat ramps, saying, "We're talking quality of life."

"My opponent is disconnected with District 1," he said.

Bustle, a Republican, said the focus should be "on anything we can do as commissioners to create an environment where jobs can be created -- that's the most important thing."

He had recently visited a county paving project at Palmetto Point, for instance, adding, "I'm very much attentive to the citizens of my district."

Asked about spending priorities, Holmes emphasized his support of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and its Emergency Medical Services, whose employees have testified they are unable to keep up financially after five or six years without raises.

Bustle emphasized the importance of passing "affordable and balanced budgets every year" and maintaining the current tax rate.

Asked what issues they specifically would address, Bustle cited economic growth in Parrish and at Port Manatee, mentioning in particular that he supported a new Fort Hamer Bridge over the Manatee River.

"Once it's in place, the

economy will go off like a rocket," he added.

Holmes mentioned the Rubonia Community Center is offering no programs right now, and was critical of how long it has taken to rebuild Little League ballfields that became part of the grounds of a new school in Palmetto.

Holmes argued that Bustle was biased in favor of special interests, adding that voters want "someone attentive to everyone's problems and needs."

Bustle said his track record represented "honesty and integrity."

Bustle, who is retired,spent 27 years as a fighterpilot in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Vietnam. He served seven years as Palmetto's mayor before winning a county commission seat in 2008.

"I think that I am eminently qualified for this job," Bustle said.

Holmes' background in law enforcement and as a private investigator "makes me a perfect candidate for this," he said, adding that it's time to "bring a fresh, new face" to county government.

Manatee County Commission District 1 race

Larry Bustle

Age: 77

Hometown: Samoset

Occupation: Retired Air Force fighter pilot and Realtor

Previous electoral experience: Mayor of Palmetto, 2002-2008; county commissioner 2008-present

Corie Holmes

Age: 35

Hometown: Palmetto area

Occupation: Hillsborough County Transportation section; former Manatee County sheriff's deputy

Previous electoral experience: None