Anna Maria Island and Cortez voters will help determine the winner of the District 6, at-large County Commission race between incumbent commissioner Carol Whitmore and challenger Candace Luther.
The two candidates recently responded to questions received from The Sun and some of those questions and answers appear below.
Why do you want to serve on the County Commission?
Luther: I don’t feel the citizens of Manatee County are being properly represented. Too often those making the decisions go against the wishes of the people in favor of the special interests. I want to be the voice for the people of Manatee County.
Too often county staff does not do due diligence in reviewing proposals before coming before the commissioners. I have seen errors in the past and it is time to stop this. I will do the research myself. I will not just rubber stamp whatever comes forward, and staff needs to do better.
Whitmore: There are many issues that will mold the future of the county and the islands and we need someone on the commission who knows Anna Maria Island. Before I became a county commissioner, I served as the Holmes Beach mayor for eight and a half years. I know how to work with other governments and agencies to get Manatee County its fair share of federal and state funds.
I pushed for the Island Trolley and for free transit for all county citizens over 80 years old. I worked with all three Island mayors to help them acquire beach concession funds that stay on the Island.
What do you see as the most important issues facing the county?
Luther: The single most important issue facing our county right now is the red tide air and water pollution problem. The sources for this problem have still not been addressed, and nothing has been done to correct this problem. I have gone out myself to collect samples of water, sand, sludge and foam to find out what is in the water, so the sources can be properly identified.
We need to stop the sources of the pollution. Our residents’ health is being affected, tourism is being affected, the incomes of our residents are being affected, and the list goes on. Without clean air and water, nothing else really matters. There are many issues I want to address, but this is priority number one.
Whitmore: Searching for a new county administrator; acquiring and pushing the study for a new bridge over Manatee River to relieve traffic congestion; pushing to improve and update our parks; initiating a campaign to build a new animal shelter more centrally located in Manatee County; getting ahead of the infrastructure being built in north county with sidewalks, roads and bridges.
How would you assess the county’s red tide response?
Luther: I think it has been a pathetic attempt at a cover-up with no solutions. Their response to the red tide was to dump the toxic biohazardous waste into the landfill. All this did was spread the toxins to the eastern part of the county too. It seems all anyone cared about was removing the carcasses from the beach to make it look as though everything was fine. I would like to know where are the water tests showing what toxins and bacteria are present? Where are the air quality tests?
Whitmore: As a 49-year resident on Anna Maria Island, I have been through many red tides. I was on the first board of START when they formed after a terrible red tide in the 90s. The county is still assessing the beaches every day, cleaning when needed and reporting the status of the beaches. I recently received a call from someone wanting help in their canals and I referred them to Cortez fisherman Nathan Meschelle.
What are your thoughts on the recent County Commission approvals of the Aqua by the Bay, Lake Flores, Peninsula Bay and Hunters Point development projects?
Luther: Aqua by the Bay is a disaster in the making. I don’t know how it got approval without a complete site plan or even knowing how many buildings are to be built. This monstrosity does not fit the atmosphere of the fishing village around it. All this development is going to create an even bigger traffic problem and create more stormwater runoff due to there being less permeable land. Once again, approvals were given despite the public outcry for denial.
Whitmore: Aqua was a tough one, mainly because most people don’t understand what they wanted and what they got. They wanted to destroy the shoreline and The Kitchen. They got the number of units they have had the right to build since 1989, and they are allowed the same height as IMG. Lake Flores is being built by the Preston family, who have owned the property for over 100 years. This project was supported by many environmental groups. Peninsula Bay, also a Whiting Preston project, allows them to develop land they have had the rights to since 1989, with no cutting of mangroves. Hunters Point is my favorite, with zero carbon footprint and tiny houses.