Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Side of Ranch

Commissioner says communication with Manatee constituents must improve

District 5's Ray Turner says his constituents "will know what he stands for."

District 5 Commissioner Ray Turner says the Commission must do a better job explaining the reasons for its decisions to the public as well as communicating its vision.
District 5 Commissioner Ray Turner says the Commission must do a better job explaining the reasons for its decisions to the public as well as communicating its vision.
Photo by Jay Heater
  • East County
  • Opinion
  • Share

It was Dec. 18, and with a host of elected officials on hand, District 5 Commissioner Ray Turner was content to remain in the background as a groundbreaking ceremony was being held for the three-year project to extend 44th Avenue East over Interstate 75 and into Lakewood Ranch.

Turner is not adverse to speaking in front of a crowd of dignitaries and reporters, but he wanted to let other politicians, such as Representative Will Robinson (District 71) and Senator Jim Boyd (District 20), command the dais and give their take on the project.

The 44th Avenue extension project is entering its sixth and final phase, and Turner knows that it has been discussed on a regular basis in Commission meetings and at events. The project, along with unrelated construction that is expanding 44th Avenue, eventually will connect the new neighborhoods of Lakewood Ranch east of Lorraine Road with western Bradenton, and beaches via Cortez Road, which also carries the stamp of 44th Avenue West.

After the official ceremony, Turner did relent and agree to talk with a group of reporters and newscasters.

"It's going to help my district," Turner said of the project stretching into Lakewood Ranch. "It will create a thoroughfare between the other two thoroughfares (State Road 70 and State Road 64). We have to plan for the future, because our population is growing."

In an instant, Turner might have coined a campaign slogan for 2024.

"We have to plan for the future, because our population is growing."

Turner will be an interesting case study in 2024 because his is one of four districts up for election. Unlike Commissioners George Kruse (District 7), James Satcher (District 1), and Kevin Van Ostenbridge (District 3), Turner hasn't been on the job for more than three years. He was appointed Aug. 1 after Vanessa Baugh finished a 10-year run in District 5 by resigning due to family concerns.

Simply put, Lakewood Ranch-area voters have had less than half a year to size him up.

That's why it was somewhat of a surprise Dec. 18, when Turner didn't want to be a main speaker at the groundbreaking ceremony. It was only weeks before 2024, and a new election year, and a chance to do a little subliminal campaigning.

If Turner isn't wise to political posturing, it can be attributed to his newness in holding an office. Late in 2022 he was appointed to the Manatee County Planning Commission, less than a year before he replaced Baugh.

So when he speaks, he comes across as all business. A real estate broker and a former officer for the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, his focus is on how to build, not whether or not to build.

Where that fits with the voting public remains to be seen.

Manatee County Commissioners Amanda Ballard, George Kruse and Ray Turner participate in a groundbreaking for the final phase of the 44th Avenue Extension.
Photo by Jay Heater

After the groundbreaking event, Turner said by the time the election rolls around, his constituents will know him well. He was outspoken about Manatee County's lack of transparency, both at the Commission level and involving projects in general.

"The big thing is that we have to communicate our vision to our constituents and listen to their concerns," he said. "We are not doing a good job of communicating that."

He said he will host a series of town hall meetings in 2024, and will notify many of the area neighborhoods separately, and then appear in front of them to answer all questions.

"We have to put together our 20-year plan and show our constituents that there are strategies behind these things," he said. "In 2024, we need to spend more time explaining the vision. That means having more town halls. That means that we will be having slide shows that speak to all these things.

"The perception from our constituents is that we are planning growth without concern for anything else," he said. "Environment is a huge concern. People want to know if we paving over the whole county?"

He said his town halls will concentrate on issues such as land use, infrastructure and the environment.

"We live here, too," he said. "So for me, (growth) is about what is smart. We need the infrastructure, to protect the environment, to pay attention to the social aspects, and to know what people need. We need to preserve land, and to preserve recreational land. It is all part of the growth that should concern everybody."

He said better communication would lead to less furor over individual issues. For example, he said there are reasons that it makes sense to develop along the Future Development Area Boundary, instead of skipping to areas far from development. 

"We have to ask, 'How do we strategically grow without leapfrogging," he said. "Leapfrogging gets ahead of the utilities."

If utilities already are in place alongside a planned development, then the pipes needed for things such as water, sewage and stormwater don't need to be significantly longer. When they are longer, then it can be expensive to get water or wastewater to and from treatment plants. 

It all goes back to what he calls smart development.

He also knows that constituents can be very critical of new development, but he said part of that is the lack of communication to explain projects in full, and also to explain what is legally possible.

"Developers have the best attorneys in town," he said. "They know the Comprehensive Plan intimately. As commissioners, we have to decide 'does this fit or does it not fit?' Does saying 'no' put the county at risk (of being sued)."

He said no one should think the commissioners just vote "yes, yes, yes" on projects, but he said those declined projects often are changed and then return. 

"What is hard to understand is that these projects will be coming back," he said.

Ultimately, he said residents might find that projects they don't want to see come to fruition.

"Myself, I would say we have more car washes than I would deem necessary," he said. "But if it is fitting inside the box, we don't have the power to veto it. It is a fine line."

Turner, who will oppose Republican Robert McCann in the primary, said new area residents must be aware that Lakewood Ranch is the nation's No. 1-selling, multigenerational, master-planned community, and that means is inevitable. But what he said is not apparent to residents are the plans for the environment. 

"We need to educate our constituents about what is going on, and we need to execute a plan," he said. "And people need to know what I stand for."

To that end, he might not be grabbing the microphone at big events, but he said he is willing to explain his goals, his vision, and his values, at upcoming meetings and to those who contact him.

"Politics polarize people," he said. "But I want to talk about what our future will look like, and how we are going to keep this going. We have exciting things come, and I will be hardcore pushing to get things done."



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

Latest News