Readers of this column have seen me recommend checking politicians’ voting record before casting a vote for them.
Why? All too often, they will tell you what you want to hear to get your vote but never follow through on that commitment. On Aug. 17, that proved all too true when Manatee County Commissioners Kevin Van Ostenbridge and James Satcher, along with four other commissioners (Mike Rahn, Jason Bearden, Amanda Ballard and Ray Turner), voted to gut Manatee County’s wetland protections. While all are culpable in betraying the public trust, Satcher, Van Ostenbridge and Ballard stand out in my mind since Van Ostenbridge and Satcher’s campaign flyers (mentioned during the meeting by Commissioner George Kruse, the lone dissenter) specifically mentioned protecting the environment.
In a meeting that Suncoast Waterkeeper Executive Director Abbey Tyrna and I had with Ballard soon after her election, she expressed concern for the welfare of children. But when it came time to vote that day, they all held the interests of the developers that funded their campaigns over that of the citizens and children of Manatee County.
I spoke at the meeting and was present for five hours as citizen after citizen made eloquent speeches about why this was such a bad idea. Not one person spoke in favor of the amendment and almost no discussion of the matter was held, except for Kruse’s objections. And when the vote was taken, the elected officials voted 6-1 in favor of gutting wetland protections. In what appears to me to be the height of hypocrisy, Van Ostenbridge started the meeting with the pronouncement that he was concerned with government overreach and the taking of property before leading the commission to do just that. He’s participating in government overreach by not following his oath of office to the citizens of Manatee County and reducing the filtering capacity of lands adjacent to water bodies that will directly affect the quality of life of current and future citizens.
Just recently, the commission voted on a zoning change that will pave the way for a massive East Manatee County development by developer Carlos Beruff. Corbit Creek, a stream that feeds into the nearby Lake Manatee Reservoir, runs through that property. Kruse was once again the lone dissenter. If this change voted on Aug. 17 is ultimately made by the commission, it could reduce the builder’s setback to a stream feeding directly into the county’s water supply, a water body that is currently suffering from an algae bloom that’s affecting the smell and taste of every Manatee County citizen’s drinking water.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Rob Brown, the county’s recently retired environmental protection division manager with the natural resources department, reminded the commission that this change would also affect phosphate mining in Manatee County. The Mosaic Co. is the largest landowner in Manatee County and much of that land is wetlands. The commissioners’ decisions could expand the area mined, profoundly harming these wetlands.
Once again, vet who you vote for. Don’t pay attention to what they promise if elected, check their voting records on issues that affect the public good, or we and future generations will suffer the consequences.
You can voice your concerns online to the Manatee County Commission.
Finally, this isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a political issue. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s about our children’s future and that of generations of future Manatee County citizens.