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Former Manatee County Planning Commission member seeks state office

Bill Conerly served 12 years on the Planning Commission and is now campaigning to represent District 72 in the Florida House.

Melanie and Bill Conerly in their Lakewood Ranch home. Conerly is running for the District 72 seat in the Florida House of Representatives.
Melanie and Bill Conerly in their Lakewood Ranch home. Conerly is running for the District 72 seat in the Florida House of Representatives.
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As a member of the Manatee County Planning Commission, Bill Conerly made recommendations based on whether or not a project fit the rules and regulations already in place. 

Now, the Lakewood Ranch resident wants to set the rules from a legislative seat. 

Conerly is running for the District 72 seat in the Florida House of Representatives. Tommy Gregory is vacating the seat to take on the role of president at the State College of Florida. 

“I kind of view the Planning Commission very similar to why I filed for state office. It’s also the same reason I joined the military,” Conerly said. “I want to be active. I want to influence the process. One of the things that I think is common with engineers is we’re problem solvers. We look for solutions.”

Conerly spent just under six years in the Navy. When his obligation was through, he left as an Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class and held an Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist qualification. 

He’s since become the vice president of Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. The engineering and design firm is currently working with Manatee County on its Comprehensive Plan. The large-scale conflict of interest is the reason why Conerly stepped down from the Planning Commission in 2023 after serving for 12 years.

“There’s an opportunity (on the Planning Commission or Board of County Commissioners) where you can make a decision that influences or benefits one party, so you have to recuse yourself,” he said. “At the legislative level, it’s rulemaking, so the rules apply to everybody.” 

Conerly is currently serving on Manatee County’s Affordable Housing Committee. Every public role he’s held up to now, he’s been appointed to. This is the first time Conerly will have to rely on the public’s votes to be seated. 

He hired Anthony Pedicini as his political consultant. Outside of Commissioner Ray Turner, who was appointed to the commission after Vanessa Baugh retired, Pedicini helped the entire commission get elected. Turner has since hired him, too. 

One thing Conerly sees as a misconception about himself after sitting on the Planning Commission for so many years is that he’s pro-development all the time. 

“That goes back to the idea that if it meets the rules and regulations and is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, then it should be approved,” he said. “But I would like to find a way where the agricultural families who want to maintain their heritage have the opportunity to do that.” 

Conerly is a fifth generation Floridian, who’s own heritage is in agriculture. One side of his family grew tomatoes and the other side raised cattle. As a teenager, he lived on a farm in Arcadia. 

Conerly sees promise in density transfers as a way to preserve agricultural lands. He said Collier County and Sarasota County offer this option. Agriculture is zoned for one dwelling unit per acre, so the landowner of 10 acres could sell the development rights for 10 homes to the municipality instead of a developer. 

On a state level, if elected, Conerly’s No. 1 priority will be infrastructure. 

When he returned to Arcadia after the Navy, he worked as an electrician at a transformer plant for a year and a half. At the time, Southwest Florida College (now Florida SouthWestern State College) offered night classes in Arcadia. 

A professor suggested Conerly move to an area where he could be a full-time student, so he headed to Orlando and then onto Gainesville to finish his Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida. 

“There’s a tie between infrastructure and the cost of housing,” he said. “The cost of housing in this area could break down into a couple different categories. You have rent, but also the purchase price of a home and insurance and taxes. All of this contributes to a very unaffordable situation.”

Conerly said his mortgage costs less than what some of his young analysts pay for rent. He worries that his own children will be faced with the opposite situation he was in when he left the Navy. Everything they need is close to home, except an affordable place to live. 

He’s against using government dollars for affordable housing but wants to see more incentives offered to the private sector to get costs down.

As for roads, Conerly plans to push funding for his own district but also Southwest Florida as a whole. He used the Interstate 75 at Fruitville Road Interchange as an example of a project that will also benefit District 72.

“My strategy is to partner with the folks in the (other) districts,” he said. “My skill set could benefit the entire region. I may be one of a very few of the legislators who are in the Florida House right now who have designed, permitted and been a party to construction of roadways, utilities and lift stations.”



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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