MANATEE COUNTY, FL — In the 2020 election, Manatee County voters will choose the winner of the Manatee Board of County Commissioners District 5 race. Write-in candidates Carol Ann Felts and Chris Gilbert challenge incumbent Republican Vanessa Baugh for the seat.

How to vote

As the Nov. 3 election approaches, Manatee County voters can submit their ballots at early voting locations, at drop-off boxes and by mail. They can also vote at their local voting precinct on Election Day.

If voting in person, either early or on Nov. 3, voters must bring a current and valid ID with their name, photo and signature. Find a full list of acceptable IDs here.

Vote-by-mail ballots may be returned using the U.S. Postal Service. The return postage for a vote-by-mail ballot is two Forever stamps or $.70. They must be received by 7 p.m. Election Day. Additionally, they can be dropped off at any early voting location. Find a list of early voting locations here. The deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot has passed.

If you choose to vote in person on Nov. 3, you can look up your voting precinct online here. For your vote to count, you must vote in the precinct in which you reside. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Meet the candidates

Bradenton Patch recently sent out questionnaires to learn more about who these candidates are and where they stand on local issues. Below are the responses submitted.

Chris Gilbert (Chris Gilbert)
Chris Gilbert (Chris Gilbert)

Chris Gilbert, 57, is a Bradenton resident. He’s a registered Democrat running as a write-in candidate. He’s previously served as chair of Bradenton’s Tree and Land Preservation Board.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in American studies and environmental history from Eckerd College. He’s currently studying financial planning through the American College of Financial Services. He’s worked in communications for 27 years.

The single most pressing issue facing our (board, district, etc.) is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.

Gilbert: The single most fundamental issue facing District 5 is a few wealthy special interests control our future. I intend to return power to citizens, work for the common good, and ensure citizens are treated with respect when they bring their concerns to our Board of County Commissioners.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

Gilbert: The critical differences between Vanessa Baugh and myself are: 1. Mrs. Baugh represents wealthy special interests, while I will represent citizens; 2.) Mrs. Baugh ignores and dismisses the concerns of citizens, while I will respect dissent and will bring citizens back into the political process; 3.) Mrs. Baugh believes that people who need help should sink or swim, and only wealthy companies should get help, while I believe government has a duty to help people. Carol Ann Felts, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a record in public service, and has not published a platform for her campaign.

If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)?

Gilbert: Mrs. Baugh has not once, not twice, but three times rolled the dice with our health and refused to support a mask requirement to protect Manatee County residents. She has consistently enabled irresponsible development and created socialism for developers by voting to reduce impact fees and granting exceptions to the County’s land development code. She has disparaged efforts to protect our land and water. She has ignored, talked over and blocked her constituents when they try to express their concerns. Mrs. Baugh has been uncivil and unprofessional to both citizens and County employees. Instead of focusing on the needs of her district, Mrs. Baugh has made President Donald Trump her most important constituent, and focused on the priorities of a regressive Republican agenda in the state, telling people to just get a job instead of advocating for fixing our broken unemployment compensation system, telling women workers permanently displaced by COVID-19 that she won’t help them get retraining, instilling NIMBY fear about affordable housing, telling constituents that there is nothing she can do about managing growth, when she could advocate for changes in state law and encourage voters to approve the land conservation initiative on our ballot. For these and many other reasons, Mrs. Baugh has failed our community.

Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.

Gilbert: The role and purpose of government is at the center of my campaign. I believe that government can solve many of our most important problems, such as providing clean water, efficient commutes, and human services. Private interests cannot solve many of the problems we face in life. My incumbent opponent believes that everything should be up to private companies. Government efficiency is important to me. If I’m elected, I will propose a government consolidation, to create a single county-wide government. This will streamline planning and has the potential to save taxpayer money. For such a wealthy County, the quality of life in Manatee County is declining. Our rivers and aquifer are being polluted by industrial chemical byproducts by the phosphate mining industry. We are not doing nearly enough to bring-in sustainable industry, which could raise wages and make it easier for people to buy houses (addressing the affordable housing crisis). Manatee County is divided into lush suburbs with parks and green space, and tree-starved, concrete-covered urban corridors. Citizens do not have equal access to green space. Manatee County could have a large, integrated park system that people could enjoy, and that would give animals a chance to survive.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?

Gilbert: I served on Bradenton’s Tree and Land Preservation Advisory Board for five years and was unanimously-elected its chair for two consecutive year-terms. While Chair, I created cooperative relationships with preservation organizations in other cities, community service awards and events, and ensured citizen input was respected. In the private sphere, I have led process-improvement committees at logistics, communications, and manufacturing companies. I am a trained Accountant, including in government Accounting. I am almost finished with my education in Financial Planning.

Why should voters trust you?

Gilbert: Voters can trust me because I am not running to get money and power. I am running to ensure you get power.

If you win this position, what accomplishment would make your term in office as a success?

Gilbert: A countywide, connected public park system that helps protect our water, provides green space for everyone to enjoy, and gives wildlife the chance to survive. God gave us this beautiful but fragile place, and up to now, our leaders have neglected it, in favor of short-term corporate profit. If we can preserve our quality of life, then it will be easier to attract new business.

What are your views on fiscal policy, government spending and the handling of taxpayer dollars in the office you are seeking?

Gilbert: Fiscal policy at the county level is necessarily conservative. This is in contrast to spending at the federal level, which is tied to overall productivity of the economy and monetary policy. I do not believe in lowering property taxes, which was a recent issue at a citizen-led tax protest at our BOCC. I would keep an adequate reserve and spend more on human services. Fully 1/3 of the needs of children in Manatee County are unmet, regarding food security, education, and recreation. I’m a financial planning student, and I entered that field because I am inherently conservative, but it is short-sighted to not invest in people and their human potential. Healthy people are productive people, and productive people pay taxes and buy more goods and services. In terms of the County’s long-term commitments, I would want whenever possible to tie any bond commitments to corresponding revenue, not just plan to pay for the issue with forecast property tax revenue. We are extremely fortunate that pension obligations are not a critical issue, here. My view is that the well-being of our citizens is much more important than the salaries and administrative costs of our County government.

Do you support Black Lives Matter and what are your thoughts on the demonstrations held since the death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake?

Gilbert: Black Lives Matter…to every sphere of our lives. We need everyone to have equal opportunity and equal justice. I’m selfish about this-a Black student in grade school today may grow-up to cure an illness I may have later in life or pay taxes that support my social security. But people have inherent natural rights, and Black and Brown people in our country face systemic racism eve

What are your thoughts on the campaign to “defund” the police?

Gilbert: The ‘Defund Police’ movement expresses the frustration many people feel at the militarization of some forces, and the disparity of treatment between White people and People of Color. I would ask how people would feel if they were paying the same taxes and yet receiving unequal treatment at the hands of public safety officers?

What are your thoughts on the state and national response to the coronavirus pandemic? Do you favor such measures as limiting operation of non-essential businesses or restricting indoor/outdoor dining? And do you favor a nationwide mask mandate?

Gilbert: The state and national response to the coronavirus pandemic was inadequate because President Trump feared a proper response would cause a recession and harm his chance for re-election. The state response was also insufficient because Gov. (Ron) DeSantis wanted to support President Trump. COVID-19 will cost the U.S. economy over 3% in GDP and almost 8 trillion dollars. The Republican philosophy that everyone should deal with COVID-19 fallout on their own leaves millions of Americans struggling needlessly. The Federal government has the ability to provide enough stimulus to ensure folks can feed their family and keep their house. I favor limiting non-essential businesses, restricting indoor/outdoor dining, a nationwide mask mandate, and an adequate financial stimulus to help people recover. The money we invest today will be recovered as a productive economy pays taxes.

Is there any reason you would not serve your full term of office, other than those of health or family?

Gilbert: No.

The best advice ever shared with me was:

Gilbert: My mother, who told me to always be honest and do the right thing. Not the expedient thing, but the right thing.

What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?

Gilbert: When you write-in my name on your ballot, and completely fill-in the oval next to it, you help move the needle to a local government that is responsive to your needs, and not the needs of wealthy special interests. Even after you forget my name, don’t forget that the government Vanessa Baugh has given you is not normal. It’s not normal to be overlooked and ignored. Vote for people who put you and your interests first.

Learn more about Gilbert at his campaign website.

Republican Vanessa Baugh did not submit her questionnaire to Bradenton Patch, but we’ve compiled some information about her. She’s held the District 5 seat since 2012 and is seeking reelection.

According to her campaign website, she and her husband founded Vanessa Fine Jewelry, which is located on Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street. She studied business administration at Tidewater Community College and studied at the Gemological Institute of America.

She told the Observer that her main priorities are improving infrastructure – including roadways, as well as water and sewer lines – law enforcement funding and reducing government regulations. She also said that the county needs to work with developers to bring more affordable housing to Manatee.

According to her interview with the Observer, Baugh is not “a fan of impact fees” because how they’re used is restricted by Florida laws. She said she also believes government spending should be cut and each department audited to avoid increasing the millage rate.

Baugh also recently voted to repeal the county’s mandatory mask mandate. According to the Bradenton Times, she said, “The majority of people wear a mask not because of a mandate but because they know it’s the right thing to do. It’s up to each business to enforce whether people should wear a mask or not.”

Learn more about Baugh at her campaign website.

Write-in candidate Carol Ann Felts also did not submit her questionnaire to Bradenton Patch. According to the Bradenton Herald, she lives in Myakka City and is known for her participation in the Cracker Trail Ride for 15 years. She has previously served as a trail boss.

She has been an advocate for numerous issues in recent years, including the Florida Power & Light’s Bobwhite-Manatee Transmission Line and Manatee’s stormwater fees. She told the Herald that her biggest concerns involve government transparency and communication.

“We have gotten mired in bureaucracy and nothing gets done,” Felts said.

She also spoke out against the “apathy” of Manatee County voters and leaders to The Bradenton Times.

“My ‘competition’ is not the current commissioner or other opponent. The challenge is the apathy and lack of information or knowledge of how our local government works or doesn’t work. Our county commissioners are the first line of representation for most people, yet so few even know what district they live in or who their commissioner is,” she said. “This stands for people who have been in office or at high levels of the county staff for years, making decisions that affect us in our own backyards, and yet interact so little with all their constituents or sincerely encourage others to be involved.”

Felts also told the Times that she is “a rare and endangered eight-generation native Floridian.”

She added, “In that perspective alone, I bring a history, a culture and a personal sense of place to the board that few can claim. I have been actively involved in preserving the attributes of Manatee County in the environment, agriculture, tourism and the building industry, and vocal before the board in my opposition to issues I feel are a liability to our quality of life here. I am retired from an accounting career and have owned my own real estate since I was 23 years old. I also live on the cusp of the encroachment of development past the urban boundary, where the decisions of the board as a whole have the greatest effect on an area that needs greater representation now more than we ever had in the past, for all of Manatee County.”

The issues most important to her include planning for growth and development, Felts told the Times.

“Growth is inevitable, and I am a realist in the need to prepare and plan for that growth. We cannot continue to approve new development without requiring stipulations for an adequate contribution from those developers, not to political campaigns, but to the necessary infrastructure to support these new communities,” she said.

This article originally appeared on the Bradenton Patch

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