BRADENTON BEACH – Two candidates for the Bradenton Beach City Commission’s Ward Four seat met Thursday night for a forum sponsored by the Anna Maria Island Sun and hosted by staff writer Tom Vaught.
A handful of voters listened to a friendly discussion between Bob Bartelt, a member of the Scenic Highway Committee, later the Scenic/WAVES Partnership, and Bill Shearon, a former Bradenton Beach city commissioner and member of the City Pier Team, the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board.
The winner will replace former City Commissioner and Mayor John Chappie, who was elected to the Manatee County Commission.
Shearon emphasized his experience as a former Bradenton Beach city commissioner, while Bartelt, a city advisory committee member, graciously offered, "I’m not running against him, I’m just running for the same seat he is."
Bartelt said the city is doing a good job with its budget, as one of the few cities with a reserve fund, while Shearon said the city needs to work on its budget process all year, not just annually.
On the question of how to reduce future budgets, Shearon said that projects need reliable timelines so that funds are spent in an organized manner. Budget cuts should be considered in each standard annual review process, Bartelt said.
Bartelt said the city is maintaining an economical and desirable insurance policy for its employees, while Shearon said he was disappointed that no merit raises or cost of living increases were made this year and that the city had to dip into its reserves.
City staff cutbacks have hurt the city somewhat, Shearon said, adding that, "I don’t think we can cut very much more in employees." The city streets are clean, the trees are trimmed and the holiday decorations go up on time, Bartelt said, adding that he knows of no complaints that employees are overwhelmed or that morale is a problem.
On how to prevent projects from running over budget, such as the Bridge Street project, Shearon said that commissioners and the mayor must get more timely information than what is provided at the two monthly meetings.
Special commission meetings could have been called to discuss occasional cost overruns, Bartelt said.
A controversy over whether dogs should be allowed on the Coquina Beach multi-use path is a moot point, Bartelt said, since Manatee County has jurisdiction. Shearon said he has no problem with dogs on the trail if they are leashed and under control, and owners clean up after their dogs.
The parking shortage in the city is an age-old problem, Shearon said, adding that a $25,000 consultant’s plan had little value. He suggested encouraging workers at area businesses to park at the public beach and take the trolley to their workplaces.
"We’ve got a five-pound Island with a 10-pound parking problem," said Bartelt. The city has exhausted the possibility of expanding parking and businesses must now create a solution, he said, perhaps using a lot at the Coquina boat ramp and a large golf cart for transportation to the business district.
Australian pines are exotic and as many as possible should be removed to return the Island to its pristine state, Bartelt said. The pines should be removed and replaced with native plants in the same ratio, Shearon said.
A sidewalk project along Gulf Drive ended with sidewalks on the east side of the road partly because the project took five years and $75,000, Shearon said, although the original plan was to have sidewalks on both sides of the road. "I like the shabby chic look of the Island as it is now," with a sidewalk on one side of the road, Bartelt said, adding that he would have to research whether there was a need for another sidewalk.
A public/private partnership should be developed to discuss parking on the beach across from City Hall, Bartelt said. Shearon said he is opposed to a parking lot on the beach.
On the city’s efforts to go "green," Shearon said, "the city has an obligation to be as environmentally friendly as we can," with more than a third of the city as public beach, "but we do have budget restraints." Bartelt said that he is interested in looking into using a mixture of permeable sand and shell for parking lots and walking paths.
On whether the city’s guidelines for development are desirable, Shearon said that the public should attend comprehensive plan meetings and express their opinions, or apply for openings on the planning and zoning board. Bartelt said he would have to research with the planning and zoning department whether there are violations of the plan in the city.
Bartelt said he looks forward to becoming more involved with the city’s employees. "It’s a joy to me that there’s such a team spirit and a team effort," he said.
He brings a different set of skills to the city than Shearon, Bartelt said, including the teamwork and cooperation he learned as a firefighter in Milwaukee. He said the city needs to provide an atmosphere in which businesses can thrive.
Shearon said he would like to carry out projects he worked on in his prior commission term, including working on the budget and establishing timelines for projects.
The government moves at a glacial speed, Shearon said, adding, "That isn’t acceptable any more."