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Date of Issue: November 01, 2007

Bradenton Beach mayors race: two similar candidates

Bradenton Beach mayoral candidates Bill Shearon and Michael Pierce spent so much time at The Islander candidate forum Oct. 23 agreeing with the others position on a number of issues, it seems a shame there can’t be a “co-mayor” in the city. The office will be on one of only two ballots in Manatee County. The other open seat is for mayor of Bradenton on Nov. 6.

Both Bradenton Beach candidates said they plan to make the position a full-time job if elected, both “love” everything about being mayor, and both “love” Bradenton Beach and want to maintain its “Old Florida” charm and atmosphere, while at the same time making the city appealing to visitors and residents.

Pierce, a city commissioner and former chairman of the Bradenton Beach Corridor Management Entity Scenic Highway Committee, said that in the future, the city can be a whole lot better and he has the will and determination to lead it during this process.

Shearon, who is currently a city commissioner, said there is a need for “financial direction” and taxpayers “demand and deserve” the “best value for the buck.”

His experience in owning and operating his own business will serve him well as mayor of the city.

The city, he said, needs time lines for short-term and long-term projects.

Valerie Fisher of the League of Women Voters of Manatee County and the newspaper read questions from the audience for both candidates to answer.

Consolidation

Shearon said the city should not look at consolidation of the Island, but just at combining some service to save money. Just like the five boroughs of New York City, the three Island cities are different and should remain so.

Pierce agreed that there’s no harm in looking at “cost-saving” measures in any consolidation effort, but Bradenton Beach “seems to be doing quite well the way it is now. I like being independent.”

Building official

Pierce said he was “satisfied” with the city’s use of a part-time building official from a contracted firm for such services, but there is “always room for improvement.

“We need to look at how we can make the building official more efficient,” he added.

Shearon indicated he was “concerned” that the same building official in Bradenton Beach also works in Anna Maria part-time in the same capacity. He said using a part-time official is “still in the trial period,” and he wants to see how it “plays out” before passing judgment.

Downtown parking

Pierce said a number of studies have shown that the city can reorganize the downtown parking arrangement in a much more efficient manner. There is always going to be a problem in the city with parking because “so many people come here and we want people to come here.”

Shearon believes that a lot of people who park downtown should be encouraged to use Coquina Beach and take the free trolley service to the city. As mayor, he would look into the possibilities of getting more people to park at Coquina Beach.

Bridge closing

Closing the Anna Maria Island Bridge for 75 days starting in April 2008 will be a “real mess,” for Bradenton Beach in terms of traffic congestion, said Shearon. The long-term solution to the problem is a new bridge. Shearon was concerned that the Anna Maria Island Bridge was closing in April, not October to December, which he believes is the preferred time period for the Island.

Pierce said he “leans” toward a new bridge, but the closure of the current structure will “create chaos” in Bradenton Beach and a loss of revenue for many businesses.

Visioning process

Pierce said the city has many visions, perhaps too many. “My vision is to make this a better place.” He believes the city needs to be “greener” and he wants to keep the beaches clean.

Shearon said he also has a clear vision for the city and there are several issues that he would place on a “time-line” to meet goals and objectives.

Pier cost overruns

Shearon defended the renovation project on the city pier and refuted the argument that there was a large cost overrun. There were some, he said, but some of those were expected. Many issues at the pier had been neglected for many years and when those were discovered, increased the cost of the renovation project.

Pierce said that although the project cost was “close to expectations,” there were “still some bugs.”

Eventually, “they all got straightened out and we have a great pier.” Income from the pier, he said, will eventually pay for the cost of renovations.

Next big city project

Pierce said he could not name one single project, but many projects. Those include sidewalks, more trolley shelters, stormwater drainage and roads, among others.

Shearon said he believes the next major project for the city is sidwalk enhancement within the CRA district. The project has been under discussion for three years and needs to “move forward,” he said.

As mayor, he will bring this project into his short- and long-term plans.

Stopping loss of population

Shearon agreed that it’s difficult to keep people from leaving Bradenton Beach because of property values and the high cost of living on the Island. It’s hard for a family to live in the city or on the Island.

Pierce said revitalizing Coquina Beach would do a lot and “people will want to move here.” The city can cater to all types of people.

Cortez Beach groins

Shearon believes the groins should be revitalized, but he has a concern with making one a fishing pier. Fishing and swimmers “don’t mix,” he contended.

Pierce, however, wants to get rid of nearly all the groins as they have “served their purpose,” but he would retain one for public use as a walking pier.

Special master

Both candidates agreed that eliminating the city’s code board and using the services of a special master was a wise decision.

Shearon said code board complaints were involving too many lawyers against the ordinary citizens who composed the board.

Pierce also favors the special master, noting that he formerly sat on the code board when it was “neighbor versus neighbor,” and difficult to make a decision against a friend. He does believe the city needs to do a better job of enforcing its codes.

City manager

Pierce said he is satisfied with the current mayor-commission form of government and there is no need for a city manager. “I wouldn’t change it. I’m satisfied.”

Shearon said he did not believe the city had enough population or revenue to justify hiring a city manager. The mayor’s job is to be the city administrator.

Trash and waste-hauling services

Although it costs more for the city to have its own trash and waste-hauling department than to utilize an outside firm such as Waste Management Inc., both candidates were happy with the current service.

“People in Bradenton Beach enjoy having their own service,” said Pierce, while Shearon noted that with its own sanitation department, the city “can provide extra services that Waste Management can’t.”

Citizen involvement in government

Shearon admitted it’s often difficult in a small city to get citizens involved in volunteer committees and organizations. He said he will solicit people he knows to become involved with city government by inviting them to a meeting of a particular committee they might be interested in, then asking them to volunteer their time and effort.

Pierce agreed that it’s “difficult” to get people involved because many people don’t know what the various city committees and boards are “all about.” His plan is to go to various neighborhoods and encourage people to get involved with their city.

“There’s a niche for each person and I would invite each person to become involved,” he said.

Coquina Beach management

Both candidates agreed that Manatee County has done a good job of managing traffic and people at Coquina Beach since the shooting incident last spring.

Purchase of lands for public use, recreation

Pierce and Shearon agreed that the city has enough land for public recreation and parks. One-third of the city is public beach, said Shearon and there are three other parks for public use.

In addition, Shearon said, land is too costly at present to spend taxpayer dollars for purchase.

Pierce agreed that land is too costly, but suggested that the city’s parks are not utilized enough.

Leffis Key auditorium

Pierce said he favored the concept of building an entertainment auditorium at Leffis Key, while Shearon said he needed “more information” before he could decide whether or not he favored the idea.

In general, Shearon said, he favors the concept, but there are a number of issues associated with such a complex that must first be addressed.

Water taxi

Shearon said there is a need for a water taxi from the mainland to the Bradenton Beach Pier to help minimize vehicular traffic. In addition, a water taxi fits in perfectly with the revitalized city pier and its floating dock for boats.

Pierce has been to a number of meetings on the water taxi issue and the city is “still working” on the process. He’s in favor of the idea, as the city needs to get people to visit Bradenton Beach without using a vehicle, but another mode of transportation such as the trolley or a water taxi is desirable.

Summary:

Pierce said he plans to be a full-time mayor after elected. “I love Bradenton Beach and I love being here,” he said. For a small city, Bradenton Beach has achieved “a lot of accomplishments.”

Shearon also plans to be a full-time mayor. “The city is a business and has to be run like a business. It’s a full-time job.”

Both candidates concluded their discussions by thanking those who attended and reminding everyone to “get out and vote” on Nov. 6.

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