Claims of special interest, ethics violations continue to cloud race
Both of the candidates competing to replace Robin DiSabatino on the Board of County Commissioners believe the choice on the ballot for South County residents is clear.
The Republican candidate, Misty Servia, has earned the support and endorsement of her close friend, Commissioner DiSabatino. Both say the ethics investigation into Democratic candidate Melton Little is enough to disqualify the Palmetto-based lawyer as a competent commissioner.
“I believe individual integrity is a fundamental value that should be expected of all public officials,” Servia said. “What we do when no is watching is an even more revealing look into our char- acter. Our public representatives often have their integrity tested with those who ask for decisions that may not be in the public’s best interest.”
But Little says there are bigger issues than an ethics investigation that is already in the stages of wrapping up. He argues that DiSabatino hasn’t fought for her district adequately, and as someone
who has been active in the community for nearly 30 years, he could do a better job.
“I don’t think she was successful in accomplishing a lot for the district,” Little said. “I really don’t.”
Servia disagreed and said DiSabatino has fought for her constituents during her time on the board.
“She has been a strong advocate for South County while serving as a commissioner,” she said. “I know she will continue to stay invested in the future of the district and cares deeply about who fills her seat. I am very proud to have her standing beside me in this race.”
Little, 57, also addressed what he said were lies and misinformation coming from his opponent, who has spread the word about how the Florida Bar Association is looking to suspend Little for two years and possibly disbar him.
While he admitted disbarment is an unlikely possibility, a referee appointed to the base by the Florida Supreme Court recommended a light form of discipline and a year of probation.
“To say that I’ve been suspended for two years isn’t based on any facts. What the Bar does, I can’t control. The Supreme Court is the ultimate decider,” Little explained. “They appointed the referee who recommended admonishment, and that’s one step below a private reprimand.”
After he and his law partner, Scott Kallins, gave a judge presiding over one of their cases tickets to a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, all three found themselves in trouble. Judge John Lakin resigned from the bench and, in a complaint, the Florida Bar recommended that Kallins and Little be suspended from practicing law for two years. A referee, however, disagreed with the Bar’s suggested punishment.
At a recent candidate forum, Little took aim at Servia’s campaign contributions, which he claims are evidence that special interest groups are trying to buy a spot on the Board of County Commissioners. Campaign finance records indicate that Servia has raised $114,000 compared to Little’s $75,000. Both campaigns have spent around $50,000.
“She’s funded by developers,” Little stated. “I’m looking to represent the people of South County and my concern is that she’s running to represent a group of special interest.”
Servia, who has worked as a local community planner for 30 years, has indeed earned the support of multiple developers and corporations, but she says Little’s claims are meant to take the scrutiny away from his own scandal.
“His allegation is simply a ploy to deflect attention away from himself as he tries to paint me as someone I am not,” said Servia, who added that her votes are not for sale. “Anyone who knows me understands that I am completely devoted to improving our community, which is why I am running for office.”
Both candidates, however, agree that there is still much work to be done in southern Manatee. Servia and Little have called for improved infrastructure, further investigation into health issues linked to Bayshore High School and to bring more businesses into the area.
“I believe we’ve been ignored for so long that we now are struggling in District 4 and we need someone who will come in and fight. I love this community and I hope one day my ashes are sprinkled in South County,” Little said.
Servia made no mention of the neglect that Little accuses DiSabatino of, but admitted that she’s seen plenty of areas where the county needs to step in.
“District 4 has aging and under-performing infrastructure that needs to be upgraded, including storm drains, utility pipes, roadways, sidewalks and lighting. Bringing these improvements to south county will be one of my top priorities,” she said.
Another point that Little has been keen to expose is that Servia, who ran for a seat on the Manatee County School Board two years ago, doesn’t live in the district she’s running to represent. She acknowledged that she currently splits her time in a home outside District 4, but is in the process of selling her home and moving into the area.
Servia said Little only recently purchased his Harbor Pines condo, which he said was true. However, he responded saying whether she lives in the district or not, Servia has done nothing to help the area out.
“My bigger issue is that she doens’t live in the district, and, in my opinion, she has spent very little time in the district other than to run for county commission. Has she coached for Bayshore High? Has she ever even been to Bayshore? The question is what has she done with her time and money to help the district,” Little said.
Both District 4 candidates joined District 4 residents of Kinnan Park at a Sept. 25 Board of County Commissioners meeting to oppose the construction of the P25 public safety radio tower in the neighborhood. Little and Servia agree that the county didn’t follow the proper protocol by letting residents know about the tower in advance.
“The government is in place to protect the health, safety and welfare of all residents, and unfortunately, they failed with this project,” Servia said.
“The ideal solution would’ve been to never let it go that far,” Little said, directing more complaints toward the incumbent commissioner. “If you’re a county commissioner and something like that is being built in your district, the question should be: will the residents know a tower is being built?”
Other District 4 issues that Little would like to address include bringing recreational facilities to South County, tapping into unused SWTIF funds and giving proper weight to public input to the board. As commissioner, Servia says she would like to increase District 4 funding for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, create a “Citizens Growth Oversight Committee” and spend more of the money the county keeps in reserves.
For more information on each candidate’s platform ideas, visit their campaign websites at Melton4Manatee.com and Misty2018.com.
From left: Melton Little and Misty Servia