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East County Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2021 4 months ago

Myakka woman runs for Manatee County Commission

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Carol Felts hopes to shine a spotlight on local government and teach people to be engaged citizens.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Myakka City resident Carol Felts sometimes thinks of government as a horse.

The horse’s head represents elected officials, while the horse’s feet symbolize the people those officials represent.

You can’t steer a horse in the right direction by controlling its head, Felts said. You have to control its feet.

In other words, voters can’t determine the direction of their government by simply choosing the correct commissioners every Election Day. Instead, they must stay informed of the issues and make their voices heard month after month, year after year. They must always keep their feet moving.

Felts has filed to run for Manatee County Commissioner in 2022 because she wants to teach people about the importance of local government and how to stay involved in it.

Felts, a registered Republican who views herself as an independent, is running against Commissioner Carol Whitmore to represent the county at-large. As of April 23, Whitmore and incumbent Commissioner Misty Servia, who serves District 4, have filed for re-election. Timothy Norwood has filed to run against Servia. 

Myakka City resident Carol Felts, pictured with one of her horses, JR, hopes her campaign for Manatee County Commission will shine a spotlight on local government and teach people to be engaged citizens.

Felts is a regular participant at Manatee County Commission meetings and said she has made it her hobby over the past few years to learn as much about the county’s government as possible, adding that she has learned many of the real-world, nitty-gritty aspects of government she wishes school had taught her.

For example, Felts said no matter how many citizens provide input on a land development issue, it is rare that the county votes against the applicant. She said it is time for the county to define and achieve a compromise between smart growth and rapid development.

Felts said her main hope is people who follow her campaign will learn as much about county government as she has, especially because she said the county's procedures make it difficult for the average citizen to stay involved and informed.

“I want people to learn that you do have a voice, and if you don't use it, you really can't complain,” Felts said. “I think if we broke this down enough where people could understand things, we would find people more participatory on their own. We have 400,000 people in this county. We have 17 people running the county — five developers, seven commissioners and (five) peripherals. We can't look at that as a separation of us and them anymore. The only way to do this is through education, information and participation.”

Felts has created a petition in an attempt to garner the 2,765 signatures of registered Manatee County voters required to qualify for the ballot rather than pay a qualifying fee of approximately $5,419.

In the spirit of her campaign to increase citizen participation in government, she said she hopes her petition will allow her the opportunity to help people who have never registered to vote learn how to do so.

Felts said most people vote based on the postcard they get in the mail right before an election. She wants to change that. Felts said she has enough time to stand in front of Publix for a few hours at a time, handing out homemade flyers and talking to people about their local government.

Felts said her knowledge of the entire county makes her a good fit for the at-large role. She has lived in Myakka City for about 20 years. Before that, she lived in west Bradenton and stabled her horses in Parrish.

“I would like to bring the message to the rest of the county on how valuable Myakka and our rural lands can be to all of us,” Felts said. “Lakewood Ranch wouldn’t be the gem of the ocean that it is if you didn't have the beaches to go to, and you didn't have the country to go to. That's why it sits there. That's why it's a jewel. But if you can't get to the beach, and the country is taken up, Lakewood Ranch is not going to be the stellar community that it is.”

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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