MANATEE COUNTY — A newly formed group of East County residents is gearing up to challenge the way local government officials do business and to ensure Manatee County residents have a voice in process.
Called the Manatee Coalition for Responsible Government, the group’s mission is to educate, advocate and lobby for responsible county government actions that affect quality of life, safety and environmental issues and to help make sure political leaders who embrace the needs of the community are elected into office.
“We just want to be heard,” said Tara resident Richard Leffert, who serves on the group’s steering committee. “We’re going to provide balance to make sure we have representative government.”
About a dozen members on the group’s steering committee represent communities such as the Tara Golf and Country Club and Tara Preserve, Mote Ranch, University Place, Palm-Aire, River Club and the University Park Country Club, but the organization is soliciting participation from citizens countywide.
Coalition members also are concerned that after reviewing the declarations of local officials, it appears special interests have provided significant contributions to some campaigns, they said. And now, as a group, they are working to directly influence local elections to ensure local government truly reflects the wishes of the people.
Coalition members plan to meet with each county commission candidate. After that, they’ll take their findings to their neighbors.
Although coalition members will not be campaigning for their candidates-of-choice on behalf of the group, they will be using their voices to try to influence the voting behavior of the public.
Eventually, organizers hope to offer a candidate debate just prior to the general election, Leffert said.
The idea for the coalition started several years ago when East County residents attended a county commission meeting to air their concerns over the widening of Honore Avenue. The commission chairman at the time told the residents they shouldn’t have moved there because the widening of the road was already in county’s plans, said Charlie Deal, a resident of Mote Ranch.
“It was such a demeaning experience,” Deal said. “We’ve been treated as little immature children. (Our comments were) received with disdain.”
Residents in Tara later were concerned about the widening of their main roadway, noise from traffic and construction of the bridge. Other communities wanted to get involved in the cause, and residents soon began to realize they shared a feeling that they were not being heard fairly. In the fall of 2009, a group of residents began talking about forming a coalition, which launched this month.
“We felt the only way we could get representative government was to organize strong enough citizen participation so they will have to give us the deference (constituents) deserve,” Leffert said. “We don’t all agree on everything. (But) we all want representative government. That’s what we’re all about.”
For information about the coalition, visit http://manateecoalitionforresponsiblegov.net.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
Although not all members of the group agree, the majority of the coalition is looking to support candidates who agree with the following values.
• Supports Amendment 4, also known as Hometown Democracy. This initiative would give residents greater control over the extent and type of growth in their community by requiring a taxpayer-funded referendum on all changes to local government’s comprehensive plans.
• Supports the protection of environmental values and the performance of environmental impact analyses so the county can make informed decisions.
• Supports the preservation of neighborhoods and the quality of life issues those communities provide to their residents.
• Supports the promotion of safety within the county’s communities and urges careful study of transportation issues, such as the widening of roads, the construction of bridges and potential increases in traffic.
• Supports greater transparency of governmental activity.
• Supports the creation of permanent jobs in Manatee County with businesses that do not pollute.