Claims of spe­cial in­ter­est, ethics vi­o­la­tions con­tinue to cloud race

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY RYAN CALLIHAN rcal­li­han@braden­ton.com

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.

Pro­vided

From left: Mel­ton Lit­tle and Misty Servia

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