ANNA MARIA – On Thursday, Jan. 26, the city commission will appoint Charlie Salem or Brian Seymour to fill the commission seat recently vacated by Carol Carter.
Commissioners Mark Short, Jon Crane, Robert Kingan and Deanie Sebring will decide whether Salem or Seymour serves the remaining months of Carter’s two-year commission term, which expires after the city elections in November.
The sitting commissioners will base their decision in part on the presentations Salem and Seymour gave during a city commission workshop on Jan. 19. The two commission applicants each answered the 24 questions they received in advance as part of a new vetting process recommended by Mayor Dan Murphy.
When filling past commission vacancies, applicants were simply given a few minutes to address the commission before the appointment was made. During Thursday’s workshop, Salem and Seymour were given as much time as they needed to address the commission.
The questions were received before State Rep. Will Robinson Jr. and other state legislators who represent Manatee County expressed their desire for the state to preempt the city of Holmes Beach’s building codes so Manatee County can build a public parking garage. Those same legislators also seek a state-funded study pertaining to the potential dissolution of the three Island cities and its city governments.
Salem was born and raised in Miami. He and his husband, Scott Toland, moved from Washington D.C. to Anna Maria in 2017. They own a commercial building on Pine Avenue that’s leased to two businesses. Salem serves as a board member for The Center and in 2021 was appointed to the city’s Planning and Zoning Board.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and government and a doctorate degree in law, Salem worked in Tallahassee as a special counsel for the State of Florida’s Office of Planning and Budgeting. He then moved to Washington D.C. to run a state office of federal affairs pertaining to the Hurricane Andrew recovery efforts in south Florida. He then served as legislative director and chief of staff for a U.S. Senator and he finished his time in D.C. working as a public policy director for Microsoft.
In reference to Robinson and other state legislators, Salem said, “I’m re- ally concerned about our permanent resident population and the ability of our citizens to be able to govern themselves. That is something I think I could help bring some focus to.”
Seymour was born and raised in the Washington D.C. area and moved to Anna Maria 14 years ago. He spent 20 years working for Marriot International before becoming the owner/operator of the Anna Maria General Store & Deli. He and his business partners also operate the City Pier Grill in space leased from the city.
Seymour was elected to the city commission in 2016 and earned a second term running unopposed in 2018. He resigned from office in September 2019 to devote more time to his business ventures and private life. While in office, Seymour served as commission chair and as vice mayor. Seymour said this is a good time for him to return to the commission.
Regarding the most important responsibilities of a city commissioner, Salem listed protecting quality of life, ensuring public safety and being a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.
“I haven’t held elected office, but I’ve been around both the legislative and executive branches of government,” Salem said.
Seymour said it’s important to be open and approachable to everyone and to be open-minded and educated about other people’s concerns.
“Take the personal out of your decisions and do what’s best for the entire community,” he said.
Regarding his skills that would benefit the city, Salem listed “Understanding the political and the policy processes, how the levers of government work and how we can use the resources we have to impact that process.”
Regarding the state legislators’ latest efforts to eliminate the Island cities’ home rule rights, Salem said, “I have a background in putting together coalitions. I would use that experience to help craft a strategy to work with the commission, the mayor and our lobbyist on this issue.”
Regarding his beneficial skills and traits, Seymour said, “I believe I’m pretty open-minded. I might go into a discussion with an opinion but you can change my mind. I’m open to both sides of an idea. I also tend to look at the benefit to others before I look at a benefit to myself.”
Salem and Seymour agree that street paving, stormwater and drainage projects and the pending Pine Avenue safety improvements are the city’s top three core objectives, but neither believes installing bike paths along Pine Avenue and preserving the existing parallel parking spaces should be an either/or proposition. Both said they want to learn more as to why bike paths can’t be installed without eliminating the street-side parking spaces.
If forced to choose one or the other, Seymour said he’d keep the existing parking spaces.
Regarding additional priorities, Salem said, “Given recent developments, I’d say home rule is also very important and something I’ve been working on as part of planning and zoning is restoring the balance between vacationers and the residents. I think that’s also important for home rule. If we don’t have an active population and voter base that cares about the city, we’re not going to be able to withstand the influences from outside of our Island that are trying to govern us.”
Seymour said, “We could potentially lose home rule and they could throw all those codes and ordinances out the window and we could become a high-rise city. That scares me.”
Seymour thinks the city should also prioritize utility infrastructure improvements.
“I think this Island and our city has a considerable problem with utility infrastructure,” Seymour said.
He noted the 500 block of Pine Avenue loses power for six to 12 days a year, even on sunny days. He also said several Anna Maria properties recently experienced non-storm-related Spectrum internet service interruptions on two non-consecutive days.
“It really impacts business when we can’t process payments. How can we partner with FPL and Spectrum to make our grid a little more stable?” Seymour said.
Salem and Seymour both said they’d seek re-election in November if appointed.
They both support the 2.05 millage rate that’s remained in effect for several years. Salem favors the lowest tax rate possible and Seymour is open to lowering or raising the millage rate if needed.
They agree that noise ordinance enforcement is important for maintaining residents’ quality of life. Neither owns vacation rental properties and neither has any conflicts of interest they feel would impede their ability to govern.