Officials assess first year

 

Officials assess first year

 

Date: November 20, 2013
by: Josh Siegel | Staff Writer

 
 

A year into their lives as public officials, three prominent Manatee County figures reflected on their service so far, and looked ahead to the future, in separate interviews with the East County Observer.

Each was elected to a four-year term.

Edited excerpts from their responses follow.

Vanessa Baugh
Manatee County

commissioner, District 5
Assumed the dais Nov. 27, 2012

What did you want to achieve your first year?
The most important thing was economic development. Creating jobs. People are working again and buying homes. We’re moving forward, not backward anymore.

What are the biggest concerns of your constituents going forward?
There is so much activity happening in East County. The biggest thing is traffic on University Parkway. I see that as a big issue that only becomes more important. We need to come up with answers. We have to get on the list (to get federal funding to address the Interstate 75 interchange). It’s not an issue Manatee County created. Half of University Parkway is Sarasota County. We have to work together on this.

You have been in private business and ran as a pro-business commissioner. How have you benefited business so far in your term?
We helped set up a program for economic development with the incentives initiative the public approved (Manatee County residents voted June 18 to allow the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners to grant property-tax exemptions to new or existing businesses). You need to help businesses to be competitive — as long as they show they are meeting requirements and living up to their end.

What have you learned in year one?
Residents don’t expect you to be perfect, but they expect to depend on you. I also learned, and it surprised me, that politics play a major role with everything. I feel strongly the board should be non-partisan. We are voted for to represent people. And I learned you have to do what you think is right. You can’t make everybody happy.

Is collaboration between counties good — specifically related to mass transit? How does it benefit Manatee? Is it realistic with Sarasota’s instability?
It’s a wonderful idea. Public transportation is very expensive. It’s not something that makes money. We can save money and better serve the community if we work together. I do think we will see it come forward. We just need to find medium ground.

Betsy Benac
Manatee County

commissioner, at-large ­
Assumed the dais Nov. 27, 2012

What did you want to achieve your first year?
I wanted to get a good understanding of where the county was fiscally and where we needed to go. There’s so much to learn and delve into about the operations of an entire county.

How would you assess your progress toward those goals?
I understand where we are from a fiscal standpoint. I learned we are spending more than we take in. We have a plan to get in front of that. As long as property values stabilize or go up — which they have — we should be OK.

What are the biggest concerns of your constituents going forward?
The “How Will We Grow” discussion is interesting. Not so much from the policy side, but looking at what should be government’s role. We provide utilities. Does it make sense to extend them? Do we charge them correctly? We want to sustain growth. It’s a different mentality.

You have been a businesswoman and you ran as a pro-business commissioner. How have you benefited business so far in your term?
We’ve kept the tax rate low. We’ve been fiscally responsible. The best way to attract new businesses is to make sure your money is in order. People and businesses see more stability in our county government. A lot of people were concerned about extending Ed Hunzeker’s (county administrator) contract. That provides stability. Businesses see that and think this is a good place to go.

You have worked inside the planning world and on the other side. What is it like on the dais as a policymaker?
It’s a challenge and it’s different when you have a working knowledge of the application of policies like I do. I have to think of myself now as a policymaker, not someone representing a specific interest. That’s why I ask a lot of questions.

What’s the biggest challenge facing East County?
Growth is back and that’s great. It’s good for the economy. But how do we handle the offshoots of it? The Mall at University Town Center, the World Rowing Championships (2017), the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project, those will all put a strain on our road system. We have to get in front of that.

*Is collaboration between counties good — specifically related to mass transit? How does it benefit Manatee? Is it realistic with Sarasota’s instability?
Collaboration is a great thing. Citizens probably don’t see there being a county line. We have to see how we can have alternative transportation. We can’t just expand roadways. Talking about joint transportation, the solution wouldn’t be a single system. It would be a system run by an independent operator. Sarasota has had setbacks with its management issues, but I think eventually it will get done. It’s just a matter of how it’s done.

Dave Miner
Manatee County

School Board member
Assumed the dais Nov. 20, 2012

What did you want to achieve your first year?
We were hoping, and I think succeeded to a significant extent, in bringing transparency to this school district. Restoring trust with the community has been the most important thing.

How would you assess your progress toward those goals?
It’s been a bridge year with the ultimate goal of making Manatee County the most transparent school district in the state. We’ve restored relationships, shown by how we reached a contract with the Manatee Education Association on raises for teachers and paraprofessionals (the first such agreement in four years). I think there’s been an increase of morale in students and employees because we’ve been willing to be open.

What have you learned in year one?
I appreciate more how complex the business of managing a public school system is. The school district is the largest employer, private or public, in either Sarasota or Manatee counties. The school board is responsible for all of that and you realize how big of a job it really is.

The district announced Oct. 28 it must adjust its budget by $3.9 million due to unanticipated costs. Are you concerned? How would you assess the district’s response?
I like to get bad news when bad news is discovered. It has been the policy of the superintendent to address these things as they happen. The administration was open and honest about it, and they presented a clear plan to address it.

How can the board hold the administration accountable and make sure those things don’t happen?
The board is responsible for everything. We hire everyone. We’re responsible to see that these things don’t happen. We have put more qualified personnel into important positions. We will monitor those personnel and make sure no costs go unchecked.

What are your priorities for year two?
It will be another bridge year, getting the budget in place, not just for next year, but also for coming years. I would not be surprised if more fiscal surprises come our way. We need to get our fiscal house in order.

Contact Josh Siegel at jsiegel@yourobserver.com

 

 

 

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