Voters from the Island and west Bradenton turned out to hear four candidates for two seats on the Manatee County Commission give their views on everything from trolleys to trees at the Sun’s candidates’ forum in Holmes Beach City Hall last week.
Candidates for the District 3 seat are incumbent Jane von Hahmann and challenger John Chappie. Candidates for the District 7 at large seat are incumbent Joe McClash and challenger Greg Witham.
Each candidate started the evening with an opening statement.
Von Hahmann: "We face some different issues today than when I first came into office. We need the kind of leadership that’s already been there and traveled down one road to get us down the next road. The economy is key right now and we need ways to improve our economic status. We’re working on that in the county to get those projects on the road to put people to work."
Chappie: "Times have changed. The growth in our community is unbelievable. The economy is like this big crash and local government has been forced to look at the budget and where the money is going. Our taxpayers are demanding that we have representation and accountability. I will be fiscally responsible, professional and fair. I want to help fight the issues that face Manatee County."
Witham: "This election will have some profound and long-term effects on the direction of our community. I decided to run because I think our government has failed to evolve and change along with our community. We do things in an older, expensive, antiquated manner and we need to bring in new technologies and business practices and a common sense business approach to doing things."
McClash: "As a government, we have shown a lot of discipline over the years. We had a good strategy when times were good. We didn’t spend all the money for operating costs. We put money in investments like the Robinson Preserve, the judicial center, the emergency operations center. The county has been financially responsible and more than stepped up to the plate meeting the challenges of technology and being efficient."
Trolleys and taxes
Q: Should we continue to keep the trolley free? How or why not?
A: Chappie, von Hahmann and McClash said the county plans to seek $8,000 from each Island city to help keep the trolley free. It plans to reimburse the cities with revenue from selling advertising on the trolley. Witham said advertising is a great way to help subsidize the cost, but the trolley should be funded with the tourist tax, not property taxes.
Q: Do you favor raising the bed tax to fund beach renourishment?
A: McClash said he has asked the tourist development council to hold a charrette to discuss solutions to the demands on the tourist tax funds.
Von Hahmann agreed with the charrette but said because "beach renourishment is only going to get more expensive, we need to look at new technologies."
Chappie also agreed with the charrette, but said no to raising the bed tax because of the economic times.
Witham said yes because "those beaches are necessity for tourism."
Q: Anna Maria taxpayers are paying 42.8 percent of their ad valorem taxes to the county and independent districts. What would you do to make sure the Island receives its fair share?
McClash: One of the arguments I use is keeping the trolley free. It’s our way of returning some of those tax dollars to the Island communities. Look on the other side of the bridge at the preservation properties that we purchased – the Perico, Neal and Robinson preserves – some of the amenities that you have on this side of town. The Island communities are important assets to the whole county and we try to be fair with the tax revenues that we receive.
Von Hahmann: I agree with Joe. In every situation there are donors and receivers. You are a donor community just like the county is a donor to the state. I don’t know how to address that inequity except to do some of the things that Joe mentioned. You are in an area that at no fault of ours escalated at such a rapid pace that you’re burdened with more taxes. We need to go to the state to address the inequities of how properties are assessed.
Chappie: As a District 3 commissioner I’ll go wherever we need to go to get equity and we have to have it. I will fight that fight for you.
Witham: I don’t think we’ll ever achieve perfect parity meeting the needs of the community. We need to address how to lower our operating costs downtown in order to lessen the taxes on the community as a whole. The biggest issue is our taxes are about 20 percent above and beyond the rate of inflation and the rate of growth here, and that’s because of some of the things we do downtown. Not the decisions but the implementations of those decisions that are very costly and less efficient.
Oil and gas
Q: Do you support oil drilling off the coast?
Von Hahmann: We have to look at a more holistic way of meeting our energy needs because we’re so dependent on tourism.
Chappie: We have to make some changes in this country with its dependence on oil.
McClash: The state needs to commit to alternative types of energy. We have too precious of an environment to risk drilling oil off our shores today.
Witham: I’m much in favor of developing renewable energy, but it will only partially meet our needs. We’ll have to drill and take advantage of our own natural resources, whether it’s here or in Alaska.
Q: Under what circumstances would you approve Port Dolphin?
Chappie: We need to protect our environment, our tourism our beaches, our borrow pits and get it as far away from the Island as possible.
Witham: Take a proactive approach, got after it the right way, monitor it, put safety measures in place and take advantage of the economic benefits. I would never support putting it where we get our beach renourishment sand.
McClash: They planned on locating it right off the shore of Bean Point and that was just crazy. As chairman of Port Manatee, I had a chance to meet with the Port Dolphin people. After they heard the concerns of the community, they got the message and moved it out of the sand source area.
Von Hahmann: I agree with protecting our sand source. We need to have a hookup offshore not on shore.
Q: What type of new bridge should we seek to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge?
A: All supported a replacement bridge and said they would listen to the community’s wishes.
Perico and pines
Q: If Seven Shores (St. Joe’s planned high-rise development on Perico Island) were to come up again, what would you do to keep it from being developed?
McClash: John, Jane and I all opposed that project from the beginning. We have a window of time to contact the property owners to see if we can make it a county park. If they’re willing to offer that property, we should put it on the ballot and let the voters decide. I see it as an enormous resource for the community. It’s too valuable a piece of property for us just to walk away and say there’s going to be condos there.
Von Hahmann: I totally agree with Joe. The board is so environmentally focused on getting those pieces of property that are jewels in the necklace of Manatee County. I was one of the 12 Concerned Citizens of Manatee County that filed a lawsuit when the city of Bradenton and the Florida Department of Community Affairs approved the rezone for that property.
Chappie: I agree with Joe. Put it on the ballot and let the people decide. As your district commissioner I will fight that fight.
Witham: I’m not well versed on the subject, but I would support putting it on the ballot and letting the public decide. I don’t care to take tax dollars to buy preserve land.
Q: What’s your opinion on Australian pines?
McClash: I like Australian pines. What other tree could you have on the island that has that much shade and character? They are good trees in certain locations. A lot of the ones we cut on the Causeway were because of the power line issues.
Von Hahmann: We remove them strategically and we have reasons for doing it. They are an invasive, exotic species and nothing grows under them. They also are beautiful, provide shade and are fast growing, but they are not sturdy in storms. I’m not for clear-cutting them, but if they need to be removed to restore the environment, I’m for that.
Chappie: I’m not in favor of cutting all of them down. We need to cut down the ones that are causing a safety issue. They make beautiful hedges; you can work with them.
Witham: I agree with John. Safety issues aside, with power lines and utilities, they can be trimmed or hedged. Let’s not remove any more of those. They’ve been here a long time.
Chappie: I enjoy getting involved and being able to see projects go through to help preserve and protect the type of community we really want here in Manatee County and on the Island. I’m pro-business; we need to get people back to work in our community. I have experience and knowledge, I learn quickly, I’m not a micro-manager and I will be involved.
Witham: As an engineer, I learned the value of technology; as a manager, I learned the value of efficiency; as a business owner, I understand the cost of doing business. I will put emphasis on driving down the cost of doing business and pass that on to the taxpayer. It starts downtown. We need to make it a more productive and more competitive environment.
McClash: I never expected to be here this long, but it gives me the ability to have the historical knowledge to help me with decisions. You’ve seen what I’ve done. I want to keep this a place we want to call home. We don’t want dramatic change. The board is not causing this economic crisis, but this community will rebound faster than others because we have tourism and we’re doing innovative things.
Von Hahmann: I love my job. My opponent and I have been in office for an extended period of time. Look at the jobs we have done in our own communities and how we have handled those issues that have come before us. I have participated on the state and federal level and will continue to do so. I tried to lead for Manatee County and stay engaged with my constituents and always be there when they call.
Since candidates in both races are Republican, the elections will be decided in the Aug. 26 primary. Registered voters in any political party can vote in this election.
Chappie graduated from Ohio University and moved to Bradenton Beach in1974. He volunteered on several of the city’s boards and committees including the planning and zoning board, on which he served as both vice chair and chair.
He was elected to the city commission in 1997 and served as vice mayor three times during that period. He served on the city commission until 2001 when he was elected mayor. He served as mayor until 2007, but did not seek re-election to the position due to term limits.
In 2007, he was elected to the city commission and currently serves as the city’s vice mayor. He is a member of the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee.
Jane von Hahmann
Von Hahmann is a native Floridian and has lived in Manatee County for 32 years. She and her husband, Rocky, have been married for 34 years and have three sons. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida. She is a member of Saint Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
She was elected to the county commission in 2000 and re-elected unopposed in 2004. She is the current chair of the county commission, a post she also held in 2004.
She has served on numerous boards including the Manatee County Port Authority, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Agency.
District 7 at large
McClash graduated from Manatee High school and served in the Marine Corps for four years. He owned McClash Heating and Cooling from 1982 until 2002 and currently owns McClash Rentals, Inc. and his wife, Casey, have two children. He is a member of Saint Peter and Paul Catholic Church and has coached youth soccer for 14 years.
He was elected to the county commission in 1990 and has served on the board since. He has served as the board’s chairman in 2000 to 2001 and 2006.
He has served on numerous boards including the Manatee County Port Authority, the West Coast Inland Navigational District, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Agency and Tampa Bay National Estuary Program.
Witham is a Florida native and he and his wife, Janene, have two children. He graduated from Manatee Community College with a degree in engineering technology and served in the Marine Corps 14 years. He owns and operates Florida Bio-Fuel technologies, a distributorship for renewable energy products.
He has served three terms as chairman of the VFW, as chairman of the Marine Corps League and as vice chairman of the Manatee County Veterans Council. He serves as chief financial officer of Kirby Stewart American Legion Post 24, as the Manatee County coordinator for the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program.
He is a precinct representative for the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee. In 2007, he was selected as the county’s Veteran of the Year.