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God is a Republican

Tales from the Mark side:  The conservative voice of Manatee County

By Mark Young

mark.young@manateeherald.com

Oh, don’t worry, I’ll explain the headline in a little bit, but first I would just like to welcome you to this corner of conservative heaven in Manatee County. It’s sorely needed in a community that is largely conservative, and yet surrounded by liberal media outlets. This community has suffered a viral infection for far too long and I’m not talking about COVID-19. The real virus has been spread by the media ever since President Donald Trump descended from Trump Tower to announce his bid for the presidency.

Since that time, and even before, you have been lied to by the media, and trust me, I know a thing or two about it. While the Manatee Herald may be in its infancy, I’ll tell you why I have brought my 25 years of journalism experience to the Manatee Herald. Unlike other local media, the Manatee Herald will succeed as these other outlets in our community continue to sink faster than Joe Biden’s approval ratings. The Manatee Herald gets it, to put it bluntly. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that. And I believe that because I believe in what the Manatee Herald stands for within this community: The truth and conservative values and we will not shy away from either.

Many of you may recognize me as the former urban affairs reporter for the Bradenton Herald. The BH is owned by McClatchy, designated as a left-leaning media company by nonpartisan groups that study media content. The short story of why I’m a former employee is because I love my country and our military more than I loved my job. Like many Americans, I was shocked and angered at the way the Biden administration botched the Afghanistan situation, which we’ll talk a lot about in the coming weeks. I posted my displeasure on social media and was fired on August 28 after refusing to apologize for stating the obvious: Joe Biden is unfit for office and has spent a half-century on the wrong side of both foreign and domestic policy. We’ll talk about that more in the coming weeks. I’ll just say that I have never been fired from a job in my 56 years of life and I have never been more proud to be fired for standing up for my love of country first and foremost. I refused to apologize and my soul was freed that day. As a man of faith, I believe everything happens for a reason. I am here with you today as part of that process, as God moves me in a new direction. I couldn’t be happier about that. It was a long time coming, and we’ll have some fun with it along the way, but this isn’t the time.

For now, let’s concentrate on the basics of what you are in for with me at the Manatee Herald. “God is a Republican,” is a headline I use every time I start a new opinion column.

Besides 25 years of reporting, I spent almost 10 years of that time doing political humor columns for newspapers in Florida, Nebraska and Wyoming. I was advised by very popular columnists that as a reporter and a columnist, to never discuss politics or religion in my columns. However, I was never very good at bending a knee to mainstream rules, so I ignored that advice completely. My mother is probably nodding her head right about now, saying, “That stubborn boy always was a handful.” My former platoon sergeants would be agreeing with my mother, but I digress.

To take on the taboo resulted in several awards for opinion writing, but blah, blah, blah, who really cares about that kind of thing? Not even I do. The one exception is being voted Readers Choice Favorite Columnist for all four years I wrote an opinion piece in Nebraska. Now that was an honor because what matters to me is you, the dear reader, and that you get the truth without media distortion.

I can promise you a few things along the way. I’m not going to pull punches. I’m not going to be politically correct.

As I said, this will not be a liberal safe space. We will not be silenced by social media Twitter trolls and 30-year-old keyboard warriors living in mama’s basement. I look forward to crushing liberal logic here under the weight of facts. Liberals don’t like that, believe me. Liberals have a long history of name calling when they are losing an argument. The go-to insult used to be calling conservatives Nazis and I was being called a Nazi long before it was cool for liberals to try and insult conservatives over my many years as a columnist. Liberals still cling to that word today, but of course have shifted to calling conservatives racists nowadays, whether they be white, black or brown, and no matter the substance of conversation. Do they even know what those words mean? I tend to think they do not. All you have to do is look at what the New York Times did to Larry Elder who is battling disgraced California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election. Oh, we’ll talk about that disgraceful piece of writing from the Times later as well. 

Seriously though, I could be talking to a liberal about whether ketchup belongs on a hamburger, and if I’m on the wrong side of that argument, I’ll get called some kind of version of being a fascist, another word they don’t have a clue as to its meaning.

Conservatives believe in what our Founding Fathers believed, and for the most part, liberals don’t. 

We believe that the Constitution is the hard foundation of this beautiful nation, and not a document that is up for interpretation and changed to fit an anti-American political agenda.

Not on my watch. Not on our watch.

Debating with liberals can be fun, but also frustrating at times. I put it on the same level as trying to train a cat to do a complicated trick. In the end, and after all of your efforts, the cat just looks at you like you’re the stupid one. Once liberals realize they have no actual facts to move an argument forward, they call you names and throw temper tantrums. It’s their go-to finale as they huff and puff and walk away all self-righteous like, under some delusion that they actually won the debate.

It’s surreal at times, but it fascinates me when I look into their eyes and try to figure out what kind of rodent is spinning the wheel inside their minds. The term “liberal logic” is, of course, the ultimate oxymoron. Even a rat is smart enough to know when to abandon a sinking ship like the Biden administration, but today’s Democrats defiantly cling to the railing as the water rushes in. They say something childish like, “My ship’s not sinking. Your ship is sinking … gurgle, gurgle gurgle,” as you watch them go under with stubborn ignorance. It’s quite the phenomenon if you think about it.

Manatee Herald readers, this is going to be our time to make some noise. You’ll hear my loud and proud to be an American voice, and I want to hear yours. I’m tired of being silenced because I love my country and I know you are too.

I’m running long here with this initial hello, so I’ll close with just a couple of things.

No. 1: With all the news, social media, and other things are thrown at you 24/7 these days, I cherish the fact that you choose to spend a little time with me.

No. 2: Buckle up. You are in for the ride of your conservative life. We’ll talk a lot about Biden’s nonstop blunders, as well as the manipulation strategies of the left and their media partners. And we’ll talk local politics, too.

How often we take this journey together is kind of up to you. So, for now, I look forward to our next visit.




County Commissioner Misty Servia Explains Stormwater is not sexy, but….

Below is Commissioner Misty Servia’s monthly column she shared with Manatee Herald.  This month she shares her thoughts on stormwater.

If you asked a south county resident to tell you the one thing they want their local government to focus on this year, my bet is you’ll hear, “flooding”.

Take Trailer Estates – an old-Florida neighborhood on beautiful Sarasota Bay, and built in the 1950’s when stormwater management wasn’t really a thing. Listening to the flooding woes from these residents was a tough one, as there simply aren’t many options. Each lot has a tiny drainage swale in the backyard, and over the years residents had either planted or paved over these areas. Despite the challenges, our engineers got to work and started with inlet improvements along roadways. The ditch behind the nearby shopping center will be cleaned out by the end of September, and we are planning to enlarge and add drainage pipes, where we can . There is a 1-2 year plan in motion to improve drainage along Florida Blvd. and this should help the park too.

Bowles Creek and the Pearce Drain are main drains in our area and the County and SWFWMD have been studying them, which is leading to a recipe for relief. 

We have already learned that the Sarabay Golf & Country Club installed a mechanism decades ago to “dam up” the water flow so that it could be used for irrigating the golf course. The county, together with the property owner, is in the process of designing and permitting reclaimed water to connect the course to an alternative source and free-up the flow. Construction on this will start next year. 

Also in the queue is the installation of a drainage pipeline from 9th Avenue East to the Pittsburg Drain, just south of 57th Ave E. This project will divert some runoff from the overburdened 9th Street drainage system, and again should help the whole area.

Lake Brenden, located north of Magellan Drive between Connecticut Ave and Sabina Road was recently dredged to create more area for capturing runoff. Oh, and I can’t believe the stories of people swimming in this “lake” 50-years ago! Please – don’t do that today.

But when I think of major flooding, I remember Shadybrook and Centre Lake and am proud of the strong focus that we have given to these areas. Shadybrook residents have taken responsibilities into their own hands by contacting US Congressman Vern Buchanan and suggesting changes to the FEMA rules to allow residents to be more proactive in protecting their homes. As a condominium, they have pooled their money to purchase flood mitigation equipment. Talk about taking personal responsibility!

Before I was elected, I remember the 2017 storm that sent water into some of the homes in Centre Lake. They were hit hard because their subdivision was built in the 1980’s when FEMA rules were different. The problems were compounded by the limited maintenance on stormwater facilities during the Great Recession. I remember those times – hundreds of county staff laid off and our revenues – tied heavily to property taxes – well, were in the toilet. Today these facilities are maintained as carefully as a collector does an antique Ferrari, but there is still more work to do.

Studying the Gap Creek is next, which runs through many neighborhoods, including Manatee Oaks. Gap Creek is a tributary of the Pearce Drain, so we will soon have some good base-data with completion of the Pearce study, expected at the end of 2021. While this work was focused on flood relief in Centre Lakes, it will provide a foundation of information to understand the flooding issues in Manatee Oaks too. 

We will kick-off this study soon, and while it is not a quick fix, we have developed short-term and mid-term plans to support the neighborhoods during this time.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that our Summer interns have mapped our older stormwater systems, including the quality of each of the facilities. This information is golden when trying to understand the big picture of the basins.

Stormwater management is not something that most people even consider, until their property is flooding. It’s one of the many things that your county government manages with your tax dollars. It’s easy to celebrate the new parks and sidewalks – the things that we can see. Just know that there is a lot of work being done that you don’t see too that protects our quality of life here in Manatee County.

Misty Servia is a Manatee County Commissioner who represents District 4 and also a certified land planner. You can reach her via email at misty.servia@mymanatee.org




Beach Access Must Be Equal For All

The busiest beach weekend of the year has arrived and I continue to field complaints from constituents asking why the City of Holmes Beach is discriminating against county taxpayers who can’t afford to live on Anna Maria Island. 

Shortly after receiving millions in county funds to nourish beaches and at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, Holmes Beach city officials took away over 1,000 beach parking spaces by restricting on-street parking for island visitors. Government should not rule over our day-to-day lives, but maintaining access to a public asset is one of the few responsibilities which they should dutifully execute. The city of Holmes Beach neglects this duty, as city officials withhold over 1,000 public beach parking spaces and restrict on-street parking for visitors under the auspice of safety. It has been over a year since they made that disastrous decision and the excuses are still piling up for why they will not restore those public parking spaces. It’s unacceptable that Holmes Beach officials used a tragic pandemic as an opportunity to cut off public beach access to thousands of Manatee County residents and visitors. Their actions are shameful and must be reversed immediately. The lack of parking has also exacerbated island traffic jams as families circle the streets looking for a parking space.

This attempt to isolate our beaches from those of us who cannot afford a home on Anna Maria Island must end. This exclusionary policy of limiting beach access to wealthy residents and tourists is dividing us and is not an accurate representation of the values of our community. Our beaches have always been public and must be accessible to all residents regardless of their income level. If you live near our public beach, visitors will always be a part of your life. That was known to everyone who lives near the beach when they purchased their property.

https://manateeherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/beach-access-must-be-equal-for-all.m4v

After meeting with Holmes Beach officials, the battle to restore beach parking still has not been resolved. I have offered the city an ample amount of county resources and bent over backward to address some of their concerns about the influx of people coming to our beaches via their community. However, the Mayor remains unwilling to compromise. I promise you I am not giving up the fight to make sure everyone has equal access to visit our beautiful beaches.

Manatee County beaches belong to the citizens of Manatee County and it’s my job as your County Commissioner to ensure they’re easily accessible to you and your family. Our beaches are the crown jewel of Manatee County and public access to them must be a priority. The public has a right to have access to the land it pays to preserve. This is a destination city and unfortunately, the word is out that Anna Maria Island is paradise. 

Manatee County government spends millions of dollars annually maintaining the beaches on Anna Maria Island. We are reaching the point where we must ask ourselves, should every county taxpayer continue to pay taxes to maintain beaches that are becoming accessible to only a privileged few?

Lastly, as tourism continues to grow and our population increases, it’s imperative for residents and visitors to treat our beach communities as if you live there. When you’re visiting our beaches please don’t forget to properly dispose of your trash, don’t park your vehicle on someone’s lawn and be respectful of island residents and their neighborhoods. It’s critical for the entire community to come together and continue to respect the environment that we have all worked so hard to maintain.

Holmes Beach Elected Officials contact information can be found at holmesbeachfl.org.

To contact Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth by email: hbmayor@holmesbeachfl.org

To contact Commissioner Van Ostenbridge by email: kevin.vanostenbridge@mymanatee.org

To schedule appointments, follow through on concerns, or obtain County information, you may contact Commissioner Van Ostenbridge’s assistant Celeste McDuffie by phone at (941) 745-3708 or email at celeste.mcduffie@mymanatee.org.




Op Ed- The BOCC Budget Will Be Based on Facts, Not Emotions

When I was elected as a County Commissioner, I was tasked with a fiduciary responsibility to spend your tax dollars wisely. We are not afforded the flexibility to allocate funds based solely on emotions or personal desires. This community should always insist that each dollar budgeted is fully vetted and utilized in a manner that maximizes your safety, well-being and quality of life.

This Wednesday (June 16) at a work session on our future Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), the topic of the future animal shelter took center stage. (The full discussion can be seen in the video here or view it on YouTube starting right around the 2:00 mark.)

I have made it known that I believe that animal services and how we care for these animals are an important component to the overall quality of life in Manatee County. I have stated my support of our no-kill policies and I will continue to do so while on this Board. I was one of four votes that has now started the process of creating a local Ordinance banning the retail sale of dogs and cats. I anticipate that Ordinance to come before us later this summer and I will fully support it once again and hopefully see it executed and become law in our county. I understand the emotions of the animal shelter, but I must put them aside and look at things rationally when I am tasked with using your money.

I believe our entire Board agrees that the current animal shelter is well past its useful life and needs to be shut down permanently and expeditiously. When I first took office, I reviewed the plans and was prepared to move forward with the East County Shelter. However, things took a turn when we learned that the County would be receiving an extremely generous donation of the Bishop Animal Shelter, one of the premier shelters in Florida. Bishop resolves all the issues we currently have with our Palmetto shelter. We, as a Board and as a community, need to factor in opportunities like this when assessing our plans. Clearly, we at least need to ask ourselves if a $10MM shelter in addition to Bishop is warranted or the best use of your tax dollars?

I have done my due diligence and I believe my proposal on Wednesday was both rational and financially responsible. Until we know exactly what we need once we have Bishop, we cannot possibly know what we must provide out east. However, the CIP recently handed to us reflected the start of the East County Shelter immediately. A financially sensible option is to take control of Bishop in order to assess our capacity needs, service needs and financial needs before making rash, emotional decisions. I proposed leasing flex space or retail space out east on a three-year lease to have an adoption outpost near our population growth. This would most likely cost us around $150,000 for the full 36 months (assuming $10/sf for 5,000 sf) plus maybe $100,000 to build out the space, or around $250,000 for the three years. This is a far different budget than the revised $6,000,000 proposed in the CIP. It would give Manatee County a second location, additional capacity and time to truly determine our needs before expending your dollars.

We, as Commissioners, are constantly tasked with making difficult decisions and occasionally unpopular trade-offs for our constituents. They are never easy and there are always parties on each side of every decision. Before I took office, I vowed to always do my homework and always do what I felt was right, even if the opposing side occasionally felt louder or more passionate. I pledged to everyone that I would be fiscally responsible with your hard-earned tax dollars and use them in ways that maximized the quality of life for all of Manatee County without increasing the financial burden on individual families. This current Board of County Commissioners will remain fiscally conservative with your dollars and we will always stand behind facts over emotions.

Here are the facts versus narrative:

I believe this is a rational plan based on facts and data and not based on emotion and protest. Of course, not everyone sees it this way. Today, we received an email stating that the organization that was fundraising for our animals is pulling out entirely due to the “misrepresentations and half-truths” heard in our meeting. That got me thinking about the “truths” being passed around in the media, on social media and through our inboxes to rile up opposition to our commonsense approach.

  • “The Board is ignoring the citizens that voted for this animal shelter. We’re ignoring their wishes at the ballot box.”

FACT: The Infrastructure Sales Tax was voted on and approved on November 8, 2016. At the time of that ballot, Animal Services was listed at $1,000,000 (0.3%) to renovate the existing shelter. The Board at that time did not feel the need to allocate funds to a new shelter and were comfortable renovating the current building.

On April 23, 2019 (two and a half years later), the Board unilaterally voted to remove $8,000,000 from Parks funds (that were voted on by the citizens) and move them to Animal Services to add the new East County Shelter. (You can view the whole discussion here or on YouTube starting around the 2:05 mark.) In fact, they knew it was going against the voters so they debated moving Animal Services under Parks just to “keep the percentages the same” due to “perception versus reality” so people wouldn’t complain about losing funds for tennis courts.

It was at this time, in 2019, when the Board ignored the citizen’s wishes and took the voted-on funds that could have been funding our shortfall in boat slips, pickleball courts and pools to reallocate at their personal discretion.

  • “The Board is removing $8,000,000 from Animal Services and leaving them with nothing.”

FACT: Manatee County is receiving the incredible gift of the Bishop Animal Shelter. This is a state-of-the-art facility that is substantially better than what we originally intended to build. We are going to improve it even further by allocating $4,000,000 of these funds to renovating this facility. This is already 50% of the previous Parks funds going toward Animal Services. Additionally, we need to be aware that building something is one thing; operating it is another. Our CIP reflects the revised operating budget for Bishop to be almost $3,250,000/year, a 20% increase to our existing budget. These additional funds come out of our general tax funds – your tax dollars – in place of other services. We, as a Board, are agreeing to commit these additional funds for the improvement of our Animal Services. Building a second, substantial facility would further inflate this annual budget and further strain our general funds. These are the facts and data that need to be considered when we are responsible for your money.

  • “The County is underfunding Animal Services because we don’t care about the animals.”

FACT: The budget we received, and past budgets, show funds for animal services greater than the allocated funds for affordable housing for our teachers, first responders and others at need as well as allocated funds for Veteran Services, including homeless vets…combined. Yes, as unfortunate as it is, the truth of our budget is that we already spend more funds housing and caring for our animals than we do for housing and caring for our people in need. While that speaks to the underfunding of these critical human needs, it also puts the funding for Animal Services in perspective.

  • “We’re turning our backs on an organization that’s raised $2,000,000 from the community.”

FACT: Part of the proposal back in 2019 that led to this non-voter approved CIP adjustment to build the animal shelter was a promise of a $2,000,000 “public-private partnership”. At that Board meeting, it was stated that the then-County Attorney would finalize an agreement with the organization. As of earlier this week, I was told there is absolutely no formal agreement and it’s entirely verbal and good faith. Their website states that they would fund this partnership “as requested” during construction. My personal conversation with them was different. I was told they expect the County to build an $8,000,000 fully-functioning facility entirely with your tax dollars and then, down the road when it is at capacity, this organization would fund the expansion – with no agreement to guarantee that the taxpayers wouldn’t be held responsible for that cost resulting from protests of overcrowding. As of today, through large donations from Mosaic and a $100,000 match grant from a Foundation, as well as individual donations via PayPal and a PO Box on Holmes Beach, their website reflects total contributions of $332,859 after two years. This is a sizable amount for sure, but far short of the $2,000,000 pledged in both the initial CIP and the currently presented CIP. You, the taxpayer, would be well on your way to funding this additional $2,000,000 (above and beyond the $8,000,000) in place of other CIP projects without an agreement or funds available. Fortunately, their website specifically states, “In the event that the Manatee County Government has not begun construction on the new animal shelter by July 15, 2022, the funds shall be contributed to one or more Manatee County animal welfare/sheltering organizations.” – so this is good news for our animal community.

  • Finally, we are told that Bishop “can only handle 60 dogs” so this is not adequate capacity: thus, the need for another $6,000,000 taxpayer-funded shelter.

FACT: The original two buildings at Bishop have a combined 60 dog capacity. Fortunately, the new $9,000,000+ facility has 68 individual dog bays in additional to a 250-cat capacity and other wildlife accommodations. This is a combined 128 dog capacity which is over 50% larger than the 80-dog capacity of our current shelter and it exceeds the 120-dog average occupancy of the current shelter. Yes, we do occasionally exceed this average, but a) you cannot always build to a maximum when costs are involved and b) the leased outpost via flex/retail space out east would cover a substantial portion of this deficit.

George Kruse, Manatee County Commissioner, At Large, can be found on Facebook for comment or reached at george.kruse@mymanatee.org