Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Two new County Commissioners' first meeting is this morning

Posted November 27, 2016 05:59 am
By JAKE MARTIN jake.martin@staugustine.com
Changes ahead or more of the same on St. Johns County Commission? Waldron, Dean sworn in

St. Johns County Commissioner-elect Henry Dean, representing District 5, is sworn in on Tuesday. He replaces Commissioner Rachael Bennett, who served one term and withdrew her bid for re-election.

St. Johns County Commissioner-elect Paul Waldron, representing District 3, is sworn in on Tuesday. He replaces Commissioner Bill McClure, who served one term and did not seek re-election.
Republicans are taking over for Republicans on the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can expect more of the same.

Commissioners-elect Paul Waldron and Henry Dean were formally sworn in on Tuesday in a special meeting. County officials have generally said they’re optimistic about the fresh perspectives both could bring to the board despite the experience walking out the door.

Waldron takes over for outgoing Commissioner Bill McClure in District 3, which represents the southeast part of the county. Dean takes over for outgoing Commissioner Rachael Bennett in District 5, which represents much of the St. Augustine area up to International Golf Parkway. Waldron and Dean will serve in their full capacities starting with the commission’s regular meeting on Dec. 6.

Waldron, a St. Augustine businessman, won a nail-biter in the August primary over Jerry Cameron, former assistant county administrator, taking 50.01 percent of the vote. A recount confirmed Waldron’s victory over his fellow Republican by just a 7-vote margin.

Dean, former executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, won his seat in the August primary with 56.03 percent of the vote over fellow Republican Dottie Acosta, a former top official in the St. Johns County Property Appraiser’s Office.

This year’s election cycle was dominated by discussions over growth and development. Questions ranged from how to meet the demands of a rapidly growing county to who was responsible for creating those demands in the first place. The question of who should pay for what was at the heart of much of those discussions.

Leading up to the primary, Waldron said developers should be allowed to build whatever they see fit, so long as it fits within the parameters of the land use regulations under which the property was purchased. He said the county had no responsibility to allow developers to exceed those parameters. Waldron also expressed interest in eliminating impact fee credits.

“We need to hold people accountable for what they’re bringing to the table,” he said in an editorial board interview with The Record in August.

When it came to funding, he and Cameron both seemed to lean toward frugality. However, when Waldron said he’d like to see the county find efficiencies in the budget before increasing any fees or taxes, Cameron said the efficiencies have been there since the budget crunches of the recession years and state-mandated decreases in ad valorem revenues.

Waldron ran a mostly self-funded campaign, with additional support from St. Augustine residents and businesses. Although his campaign raised and spent $65,744, more than $35,000 came out of Waldron’s own pocket. The majority of contributions were $250 or less. Cameron raised and spent $159,575.

Following the election, Waldron credited his business experience and some old-fashioned grassroots campaigning. While expected to bring a fresh perspective to the board, he isn’t exactly an outsider. His father is former St. Johns County Commissioner Harry Waldron.

Paul Waldron has worked in and is a co-owner of Harry’s Curb Mart. He has also worked in residential and commercial real estate since 2001.

Leading up to the primary, Dean said there was too much growth and that it should be paying for itself. He also expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of sustained growth.

In an editorial board interview with The Record in August, he said a “course adjustment” was needed and that the problem was not with the county’s Land Development Code or Comprehensive Plan, but, rather, the drifting away from those regulations by commissioners.

“I would be very reluctant to vote for any variance to the land use regulations and to the Comprehensive Plan,” he said, adding developers know and understand the limitations well before land is even purchased.

Dean also said he would have voted in favor of putting the proposal for a one-cent sales tax increase on a ballot last year.

“That’s probably the biggest revenue source available to the county,” he said. “The voters should have an opportunity to vote on that issue.”

Dean’s campaign saw a lot of monetary support from Jacksonville land development and investment firms, with additional support from businesses and associations in Daytona Beach, Tallahassee and Orlando. His campaign raised and spent $139,731 to Acosta’s $13,805.61 (mostly self-funded).

Following the election, Dean said he wanted to make sure infrastructure and services needed to accommodate new growth are addressed at the front end of the development process.

“I really want to make sure we have concurrency when we consider permitting new development,” he said. “We need to make sure that as those projects are built out that we have adequate infrastructure. That includes roads, schools, fire, police, water, everything.”

Dean was at the helm of the SJRWMD for nearly two decades. According to his candidate’s statement on the Supervisor of Elections website, he directed the acquisition of sensitive conservation lands such as the Guana Preserve, Julington-Durbin Preserve and Moses Creek Conservation Area. He has since been helping businesses navigate through the permitting processes of local and state governments.

Waldron and Dean have been pretty visible since their primary wins. Both have attended several commission meetings as audience members and participated in a number of community events throughout the county.

The Nov. 15 commission meeting was the last regular meeting for McClure and Bennett, neither of whom ran for re-election. Both served just one term on the board.

McClure made lighthearted apologies to county staff and administration for being a “hard nose.”

“Sometimes I say ‘to-may-to’ and you guys say ‘to-mah-to,’ but I learn every time I come here,” he told fellow commissioners. “Even to this day I walk away from here learning stuff.”

“It has been a privilege and an honor,” Bennett said, keeping her parting comments short after a long meeting.

McClure is president and CEO of Medi Companies, a technology firm in St. Augustine with a focus on health care, insurance and specialty software development. According to his biography on the county website, McClure had developed one of the largest web-based insurance claims processing companies in the country before selling it in 2003.

Bennett previously worked for the county as assistant zoning manager before joining engineering firm England, Thims & Miller, Inc., as a senior planner, in 2004. In 2006, she joined The Hutson Companies as a planner and was soon promoted to vice president. She has since started an independent consulting firm.

McClure made an unsuccessful run for the state’s Congressional District 4 seat on the U.S. House of Representatives that ultimately went to former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford in the November general election. In TV ads running up to the election, McClure painted himself as an outsider to establishment politics. He had told The Record he threw his hat into the race partly in the hopes of bringing more representation to St. Johns County after redistricting split the county in two.

Bennett withdrew from the race for her District 5 seat on Feb. 29, citing personal reasons relating to her family, health and future. Her campaign had raised $33,420, the majority of which was returned to donors through prorated refunds.

Where incoming and outgoing commissioners draw the most parallels to their counterparts, perhaps, is in how — and with whose money — they campaigned. In running for County Commission in the 2012 election cycle, McClure did not seek campaign donations and conducted more of what he called a grassroots campaign. By contrast, Bennett had significant monetary support from county residents and businesses as well as Jacksonville developers, real estate firms and contractors.

Commissioner Jimmy Johns, boasting big monetary support from Jacksonville developers, begins his first full term representing District 1, which encompasses the fast-growing northwest corner of the county. He was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2014 to take over mid-term for former Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson, who now serves in the Florida House of Representatives.

Johns secured his election in the August primary with 62.58 percent of the vote, besting fellow Republican Al Abbatiello, chair of the William Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway Management Group.

The annual salary for a county commissioner is $70,338 plus benefits.

1 Comment

9 days ago
Jack (sponger) Harvell
How about putting a stop (moratorium) on any new growth until the schools are paid for and in place? Prices. taxes, fees, noise, and traffic keep skyrocketing, while services and quality of life plunges. Listen you two, do what you've been elected to do. Not what you think is best for us. Paradise is already lost.

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