The longest-serving current member of the County Commission and a former mayor of Holmes Beach, Carol Whitmore said her history in local government, including her established relationships with major political figures, gives her an advantage in meeting the needs of the county.
She said when she first joined the board in 2006, the building boom was at its height, and was followed by the housing recession which required the county to lay off numerous staff. She said as a result, the board had to rely on funds from the previous administration, as well as consolidate reserves, to keep the government operational.
Whitmore said her two major priorities for the Lakewood Ranch area are to continue to move forward on the Premier Sports Complex project, including the adjacent East Manatee County Library, as well as helping the Lakewood Ranch area to manage the expected recession.
However, she said despite four years having elapsed since the land purchase for the park, she is not concerned about the speed at which the project is proceeding. Citing the park’s inclusion in the five-year Capital Improvement Plan, she said funding has been allocated for the project.
Whitmore emphasized her experience in authoring budgets as mayor of Holmes Beach as key to managing a possible recession. “That is probably one of the most important things that a county commissioner can do, and that's probably one of the most challenging and one of my favorite things I like to do,” she said.
She said she does not believe in raising property taxes, and has not done so since she entered office. She said the county has lowered the millage rate twice during her time on the board, and that she supports the third decrease set to take place.
Whitmore said, however, that she places a greater priority on taxpayer reserves than some other current board members, and said 20% in reserves is a desirable goal. She said these reserves are an important contingency.
She said a large turnover in county staff means additional funds needed for training new employees.
She also said funds are needed for repairs to the dam at the Lake Manatee Water Treatment Plant as the $350 million the county bonded, partially for the purpose of utilities, as well as its line of credit, are not sufficient to meet these needs.
Whitmore said that when it comes to the increasing development throughout the county, she personally prefers to see less development, but votes according to state laws.
“I'm a strong believer in property rights, so I do believe people have a right to build on their property. When we're at those meetings, it's a quasi-judicial hearing. We can't deny anything because we don't like it,” she said.
She said in the Lakewood Ranch area, she does not see development as out-of-control, or as an aesthetic concern. She said in the 1980s, populations were projected at 50,000, around the numbers seen today, and that homes in Lakewood Ranch have been built with an understanding of the area's future.
Whitmore said she will assess the appropriateness of a development for an area based on factors such as compatibility with the surrounding areas, and trends in that area.
“If you have a gas station, and then somebody wants to put a doctor's office there, to me that's compatible,”
Whitmore said that, like some members of the public, she takes issue with the atmosphere at commission meetings, which have tended to feature personality clashes and have incorporated national political issues.
“I've seen things that I've never seen in my entire career: unprofessionalism, politicking at the dais, which I always thought was illegal. Commissioners are forgetting they don't represent their own personal agenda,” she said.
Whitmore said she does not consider herself to have contributed to this atmosphere.
“I don't try to make waves up there, but if there is bickering, if somebody comes at me, I'm not going to not respond. Or if they're disrespectful to an employee, or an issue, I will call them out. Because we need to be professional up there.”