News Section: Opinion
Election Day Meeting Doesn't Pass the Smell Test
The Manatee County Commission has a meeting scheduled for August 26. That is also the date of the primary election in which two commissioners face challenges. This could be a simple and easily-resolved scheduling glitch, though it was brought up to the board and administration some time ago and action has yet to be taken. When you consider that the two commissioners who are in contested races that day have often found themselves at odds with both the board chair and county administrator on key issues, it's fair to wonder whether there's an element of payback at work.
District 2 County Commissioner Michael Gallen will be in a three-way closed primary that day, against Corie Holmes and Charles Smith. Meanwhile, District 4 County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino faces off with Tim Norwood in an open primary. Gallen's race includes only a write-in candidate beyond the primary and no one aside from DiSabatino and Norwood are running for District 4, so both primary races are defacto general elections, as whomever wins will be awarded the seat.
We don't schedule meetings on Election Day for the very obvious reason that candidates are out campaigning for their races, trying to pull out all stops to turn out the vote right up until the polls close. DiSabatino and Gallen would surely like that same opportunity, and they should have it. County business is important to be sure, but considering that the board usually only meets 2-3 times each month, finding another day to hold the public meeting seems pretty easy.
In fact, the board canceled its first public budget hearing, scheduled for May 29, simply because Governor Scott was in town for a fundraising event and some of the commissioners wanted to attend. That decision was made at the last moment without even properly notifying the public, so it would not only stand to reason that the August primary meets the rather low threshold for reasons to postpone a meeting, but that the county should also learn from that debacle and make the decision and public announcement as early as possible.
It also stands to reason that the citizens most likely to attend or watch the public meeting – those who follow and participate in local government – would in all likelihood be the same sort that would not only be voting on August 26, but perhaps even involved in election day activities from poll workers to campaign volunteers. So it's not just a courtesy to the candidates that should be considered but the citizens as well.
The other commissioner up for reelection this year on the seven-member board is District 6's Carol Whitmore. Commisioner Whitmore does not have a primary challenger, so the issue is moot for her; however, given her close relationship with both the administration and the chair, I'm not alone in speculating that were Commissioner Whitmore facing a challenge on August 26, the meeting likely would have already been rescheduled.
Commissioners Gallen and DiSabatino have been at odds with both the administration and the majority of the board on many touchstone issues, including the health care sales tax referendum, getting rid of the CRA districts, the push for an aggressive, ecologically-controversial expansion of the Long Bar Pointe development and County Administrator Ed Hunzeker's controversial contract extension. I don't think it's a conspiracy theory to suppose that there are more than a couple of people on high who would like to see them fall short on August 26.
Hopefully, I'm merely being paranoid and the powers that be have just been dragging their feet on the issue and will probably soon announce that the meeting has been rescheduled so that the commissioners don't have to choose between doing their jobs and risking the loss of them. Then again this is Manatee County, so one never can be too certain that fairness or common sense will prevail.
Editor's note: After this article was published, the county noted that while there were no conflicts in the last election cycle, meetings and workshops have taken place on election days in the past, adding that the board would vote on whether to postpone the August 26 meeting at its next scheduled meeting on July 29.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.
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