Commission, election supervisor hopefuls tout ideas
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - So, Nancy Sanders asked the county commission candidates at Thursday night's Highlands Today forum, if leaders must have people who follow, why should citizens follow one of the seven?
Published: August 4, 2012
Published: August 4, 2012
"That's a tough one," said Will Bennett. He, Sally Mowery and James Brooks are running in District 1 to replace Barbara Stewart, who is retiring. "In the Air Force, we got tons of leadership training, leading through actions and personal performance."
But like the other six candidates, Bennett promised to be honest and work hard. "I don't look at myself as a leader. But if you feel my vision is good, you'll follow me."
"Leading by example," Mowery said, "is the strongest builder of personality in children."
But, she reminded, to be able to work with a team is also leadership. Three commissioners will be chosen in the Aug. 14 primary and the Nov. 6 general election, and they'll join two others on the board.
"Leadership is earned," Brooks said. "You can be appointed a leader or a director, but it's how you do that job, and the people who see you perform. You have got to be willing to do anything; you've got to set that example."
As Highlands County's EMS director for five years, he washed his own county car. "Why not? I got it dirty. I'm not afraid to work."
In District 3, appointed incumbent Ron Handley said his home building business is only as good as the people who work for the boss. But over the years, as subcontractors built their houses, most of them hired him as their contractor. "That shows they respected me and followed my lead."
Nadine Elliott-Tedstone said she suggested five ideas before Tuesday's budget meeting, and county commissioners adopted all five. "I think they were following my lead. I've gotten 100 backing on everything I've ever done. I'm congenial. I listen to everybody. I believe I'm a leader. I'm very well informed."
Jeri Canale said she was elected to the Realtor Hall of Fame. "It's a big honor to receive that."
When she was a commissioner and her husband was at South Florida Community College, the teacher asked students one evening who they admired most, and his jaw dropped as they said her name.
Michael Stone used his time to talk about why people should follow when downtown Sebring crumbles, businesses and a drag strip have closed. "You don't have to cut jobs."
In District 5, incumbent Greg Harris is being challenged by Greg Smith, but they didn't appear on the dais at the forum.
In their introductions to an audience of more than 100, Handley said he was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott over 18 other well-qualified folks. Since that appointment, Handley said he has gained a broad understanding of how government works. He is a founding member of Heartland National Bank and touted himself as the best qualified of the four in the GOP primary because he has the best business and financial background.
Elliott-Tedstone said she's disappointed that no one is marketing the county sports complex, which she said is empty. The Tourist Development Commission doesn't know the sports complex is there, she said. "And I'm against raising taxes."
She has a finance degree and experience in internal auditing, she said. "I know where to look and I know where to find money."
When she was a commissioner 14 years ago, Canale said, "We were almost debt free and we had a very similar economy."
She has been studying the law Title XI Chapter 125 of the Florida Statutes, so she knows what the county commission is supposed to do.
Stone said he was raised by sea captains. Capt. Jack Stone, he said, never took the wheel without knowing which direction he was going. He again hit the theme that many businesses have closed, and that people his age have left the county. A plan is needed to spur the economy, he said.
Bennett said he served three combat tours with the Air Force and the Army. "I came back to help run the family business."
Now he's a business consultant. He's a conservative who finds that government gets in the way of private enterprise. Walmart was going to build a distribution center in Highlands, he said, but the corporation went DeSoto County instead, and now a Sam's distribution center is going in beside that.
Mowery said she was recruited to file for the office. "People got together who know a little something about me."
"I am tired of the empty businesses and residences," she said. As a teenager, she thought Avon Park was cool. After moving to Key West and to both coasts, she returned here and bought an old house. She has owned her own business, has been a principal of a high school and a college department chair, which are examples of leadership skills. She is also a captain in the Civil Air Patrol.
Asked about commission decisions they've disagreed with, Handley could think of none, but Elliott-Tedstone brought up the firing of county administrators Rick Helms and Michael Wright. Paying off Helms' contract cost $44,000; Wright was given $59,00. "I'm tired of somebody spending my money on these issues."
"It's important to remember who they work for," Canale said. To her, that means when citizens come before the county commission, they should be respected, and that commissioners should not shut down communications.
Canale also blamed the commission for firing Helms.
Instead of taking the question, Stone again talked about his own ideas, about how disappointed he was that in 2012, he was expecting a Space Odyssey. He also mentioned HVAC and eco-power and asked why diesel engines haven't increased fuel capacity by 30 percent.
Bennett said he appreciated that the commission has "been doing a good job of getting into the weeds with the budget and cutting the fat out and making the hard decisions." However, he said, they need to find a more cost effective way to provide services."
He also disagreed with the handling of the termination of Helms and the lack of transparency. "I'll tell you why I voted a certain way."
Jeff Kennedy and Gabe White deserve an answer on their Swamp Hammock request, said Bennett, who has been an alternate on the Planning and Zoning Commission. They've been asking to build a recreational mudding business for 4-wheelers at the western edge of the county.
Brooks didn't think the county should have purchased an asphalt plant. The county grew remarkably in the 2000s, he said. "Did they lower the ad valorem millage? Not very much. They absorbed the money and put it in the county budget, now they're deciding what needs to be cut."
Asked for their ideas, supervisor of election candidates complimented the current office holder, Joe Campbell, but talked about getting into the high schools, registering more voters and increasing turnout for elections.
"I want to get more people voting," said David Flowers, decrying some turnouts of 20 to 25 percent.
He is a former deputy sheriff, volunteer firefighter and county commissioner, and currently oversees 24 employees as the county facilities director. He has a master's in public administration.
Susie Bishop was a school teacher, then served six years as United Way director, where she managed record-setting fundraisers. Most recently, she shepherded the 65,000-acre Blue Head Ranch's comprehensive plan through the county commission.
She wants to educate high school and college youths and the general public. She wants them to register to vote, then go to the polls and vote. She has talked with the other four constitutional officers about what they've done to cut their budgets, and she's also contacted supervisors of elections in other counties.
Penny Ogg said she is the only candidate with experience. She has worked for Campbell for eight years, and has continually been promoted. She moved to the county in 1990, and also worked as an insurance biller at Florida Hospital. She started as a poll worker, and was asked by Campbell if she would become the trainer for 300 other poll workers. "We have to train them in Florida law," she said.
She also became the early voting coordinator, and worked in electronic voter ID, absentee, ballot scanning, budgeting, redistricting, and attended training conferences across the state. "I know what has to be done," she said. "Experience is a necessary asset for this position."
Gerald Secory talked about how he was named Jed after the Beverly Hillbilly, Jed Clampett. He moved here after Hurricane Andrew and became the purchasing manager for the Department of Corrections in Avon Park. He became Highlands County's purchasing manager, and has moved up the ladder to become administrative services director.
"We've lost some value somehow, that our vote doesn't count. It does count, that's our voice," Secory said. He has been studying election statutes on his own.
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