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Opinion
East County Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 2 months ago

Manatee County Commission strife demands public input

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Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Politics, even on the local level, can be a tough business.

I didn't call it a dirty business because I do believe, by and large, most of our local politicians are not doing it because they are seeking fame and fortune.

These people want to serve their community.

But the way they serve can generate anger among their contemporaries, and the taxpayers, when opinions about the taxpayers' best interests clash.

Those who follow the Manatee County Commission know these next two months, and perhaps beyond, is going to include the type of angry clashes usually reserved for the fifth-grade playground, or reality TV.

The Real Commissioners of Manatee County.

Some commissioners would have us believe the villain's role in this soap opera is being played by Vanessa Baugh, who represents the Lakewood Ranch area and most of East County. Baugh is an aggressive, strong leader who isn't worried about hurting feelings when it gets in the way of her constituents' best interests. She just completed her second term (eight years overall) and wasn't challenged when she ran for her third term.

She's popular and she's been around the political block.

Baugh will be in the spotlight Jan. 6 when the Commission considers whether or not to cancel the contract of Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea, who has served the county for decades, mostly in a lower role. She was named county administrator in 2019 and deputy county administrator in 2017.

Baugh wasn't the one who made a motion Nov. 19 to serve Coryea notice that the Commission was going to consider her termination, that was new Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge. The motion was supported by Baugh, along with the two other new commissioners, George Kruse and James Satcher.

Baugh's opponents would have you believe she has cast a spell over Van Ostenbridge, Kruse and Satcher, leading them to vote to her every whim. It's insulting to those men.

What you have here is four commissioners who share common ideals and who understand they can combine to control the vote when they generally agree on a specific direction. As a commissioner, it's a great feeling to know you won't continually be one vote short of getting something done. If you voted these people in office, it means they should be able to follow through on campaign promises. 

Which brings us back to the Coryea decision.

To illustrate a point I will throw Commissioner Carol Whitmore under the bus. Whitmore can take it as she has been a commissioner since 2006.

Whitmore basically has chastised the three new commissioners and Baugh for a reprehensible move to replace Coryea. How could anyone be so unfeeling? They should all be ashamed.

But let's flash back to Oct. 27, when the Commission voted 4-3 in favor of rezoning property at the northwest corner of 117th Street East and State Road 64 near Lakewood Ranch to allow up to 150,000 square feet of commercial space that will clear the way for a Cox Chevrolet lot.

The vote came after residents of the neighborhoods surrounding that parcel told commissioners how a car lot would devalue their homes, perhaps cause flooding, and would cause them to move. Some believed allowing a car lot on that parcel would ruin their lives, at least until they could relocate. The commissioners listened to their very passionate pleas. In Whitmore's case, she bagged her emotions and voted for what she believed would be in the county's overall best interests.

It's a moot point whether Whitmore was right or wrong. She hurt some people in order to do what she felt was right for most of the residents. It's a tough job.

So, please, don't play the emotion card when a group of commissioners want to discus hiring a new administrator. It's apples and oranges when it comes to topics, and yet, the same rules apply. Take emotion out of the discussion and do what's right for the county as a whole. 

As residents, this showdown is a huge signal flare that is calling for your involvement. If you have strong feelings about whether to replace Coryea or not, call your commissioners and tell them how you feel. Let them explain what they have in mind for the county if they feel the need to replace her. Whether you support the move or oppose it, make an impact with your participation.

Myself, I would hope the commissioners would meet with Coryea and discuss their future priorities. Her previous experience doesn't guarantee she should be retained, but it should guarantee her a chance to convince the commissioners she deserves the opportunity to work with them.

Once that has been accomplished, the commissioners have to make a decision and move forward.

Yes, it's a tough business.

 

 

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