Manatee County official spokesman “misspeaks” repeatedly on tax hike project list – on same day!

Our question to Manatee County’s spokesman was clear: “should voters assume that the list of projects that the county has published will be completed if the tax passes? As opposed to “may” be completed.” That was the question we posed in our e-mail, and we linked to the county’s own list of projects.

At first, Manatee County Public Information officer (PIO) Nick Azzara didn’t answer the question directly.  But when confronted with a contradiction in the answer he did provide, Azzara wrote to the Guardian:

“I must have misspoken. The list of projects will be funded through the proposed tax. Regrets for the confusion.” Azzara underlined the words in his answer, exactly as shown in our quote of him.

azzara
Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara

That was at 3:14 P.M. on October 11th. Less than 4 hours later, Azzara gave a different answer:

“If a future county commission wants to amend the list, there is nothing in either ordinance creating the sales tax or the oversight committee that prevents them from doing that.”

A “list certain” had thus once again become a changeable list.  Azzara’s answer was given in response to a question from resident Ken Piper at an official county sales tax information meeting (audio of Azzara’s statement here).

Piper’s question makes it clear he was inquiring about the certainty of the project list, ending his question by asserting that the project list is “not necessarily the list we’ll get”.  Azzara began his answer with “if I said something tonight, or Thursday night, and I misspoke…” and then trailed off and gave the above answer shown in italics.

“Misspeaking” is not the same as “misdirection”, and readers can judge Azzara’s conflicting statements for themselves.

This wasn’t the only problem with the tax-dollar funded “information meeting”. County commissioner Carol Whitmore said “I’ve had citizens asking where do you get the signs.” Whitmore was referring to the signs of the private sector “yes” campaign called “Forward Manatee”, an effort funded almost entirely by donations $10,000 and up from real estate developers.  Azzara answered that such signs could be picked up at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce offices.

Carol Whitmore (photo from her campaign website)
Manatee County commissioner Carol Whitmore (photo from her campaign website)

NCDG Management, a company controlled by Neal Communities, donated $20,000 to Forward Manatee. During her re-election campaign in 2014, Whitmore received the maximum allowed campaign contributions from Neal Communities, John Neal (the oldest son of founder Pat Neal) as well as from John Neal Homes, Inc. All three donated $1,000 each, as did many other developers and business associated with them.

These financial facts make it difficult to believe Whitmore’s claim that she doesn’t “know what to tell them” when people ask for “yes” signs.

State law prohibits local governments from spending “public funds for a political advertisement.” By instead promoting the political advertisements of real estate developers at a tax-payer funded public meeting, Whitmore demonstrates that shamelessness and short skirts (as per the above picture) is how you become the most senior county commissioner in Manatee County.

In her county commission mailing address given on the county’s website, Whitmore gives her title as “The Honorable Carol Whitmore”. However, according to Wikipedia, that title is reserved for “various officials at the federal and state levels, but it is most commonly used for judges and members of Congress.” All Manatee county commissioners ask that you use the title “The Honorable” in writing to them, thereby giving the word “enTITLEment” a whole new meaning.

Palmetto mayor Shirley Groover Bryant
Palmetto mayor Shirley Groover Bryant

Palmetto mayor Shirley Groover Bryant was also present at Tuesday’s public meeting. “Manatee County deserves better, Palmetto deserves better, we need to pass the sales tax.” Groover said twice. Groover said that her city must have this money, thereby essentially promising a property tax increase if the sales tax did not pass. She also erroneously claimed that some people’s “mortgages will go up” if the tax doesn’t pass.

The county claims that neither staff nor elected officials use tax dollars to advocate in favor of the “infrastructure” sales tax hike. The county’s strategy seems to be to instead bring in elected officials like Groover from other public agencies to do the advocacy for them.

The meeting was the fourth out of a total of seven that are being held to “inform the public” about the tax hike. This meeting had three (3) citizen attendees, which is the same number that attended the first information meeting. Each meeting is reportedly only drawing 3-4 people.

Azzara presented a slide showing when some other counties had implemented an infrastructure sales tax. However, Azzara’s slides left out the fact that Manatee County had this tax during the 1990’s. “And it was not renewed for good reason”, according to to Linda Neely of No Sales Tax Hikes, a grassroots group opposed to the referendum measure.

As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide.

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