County commission -- Republicans, District 1

In mid-July, the Palatka Daily News asked candidates in August elections to tell our readers more about themselves. Candidates received extensive questionnaires and were given more than two weeks to complete the questionnaires. Below are the answers from Board of County Commission District 1 Republican candidates. The two face off in the August primary. The winner advances to the November general election and face Democrat Harry L. Banks. Early voting starts Aug. 17. The primary is Aug. 30.

 

ROBERT BLEY

Age: 48

Years living in area: 18

Family: wife of 23 years Carolyn Bley, 2 sons Garrett and Eric, 5 grandchildren- 2 in Putnam County schools

Education: Advanced optics, electronics, machinist, engineering and management training through U.S. Navy, courses with credits equal to a bachelor degree. Associate degree from SJR State, 95% complete bachelor of arts from St. Leo University.

Current occupation: Inventor/manufacturer (currently on hold while campaigning)

Previous employment: U.S. Navy veteran 10 years, worked for numerous construction related companies, contractor/builder in Missouri and Illinois, ran a small business having contracts with Winn Dixie, multiple business start-ups utilizing my own patented inventions, worked with hydrogen business in Clearwater to build business model into national company, countless hours of research and development of new products to solve problems for the blind or curb pollution leading to many innovations yet to be marketed.

Military history: U.S. Navy 1986-1995 (honorable discharge)

Volunteer history: 2nd Vice Commander of American Legion Post 45 Bert Hodge in Palatka, beautification committee projects in Pomona Park, keep Putnam Beautiful cleanup volunteer, Personally devote my time and equipment to maintain roads and cut weeds along roads in my neighborhood that the county does not maintain

Public elected offices: Never run for office before

Any unsuccessful political campaigns? None

Other political and government experience: Nearly 10 years of federal government experience through military enlistment

Endorsements received: Many personal/none professional

1. Why should people vote for you? My plans have been designed to improve the quality of life and infrastructure over time. Other plans will lower costs of projects currently ongoing leading to a reduced landfill assessment immediately after implementation. My commitment to open government and policies ensuring the public greater access to officials, records and staff. An ability to research and evaluate problems using scientific method. Dedication to see projects through to the end and devote as much time as required to do so.

2. What are the three most important issues you would address if elected and how would you address them?

A) First is the budget and reserves: My plan is to reduce/cut spending on programs that have not produced results, work with departments to find ways to be more efficient through workshops with oversight committees made up of voluntary professionals and staff, reform methods of reporting overspending so we are not surprised when we are over-budget by requiring staff to report current spending and give a running balance monthly to Commissioners

B) Taxes/Fees: We need to understand that you cannot tax a county into prosperity. My plan includes lowering taxes through policies that enable a stronger Industrial Base including direct and indirect incentives for new start-ups. I have a proposal to end the county funding of professional firefighters at 3 locations to deal with fires and lowering the fire fee while working with the volunteer fire departments to replace their aging equipment and promote volunteers. Look at reforming the tax deed sales to promote ownership and increase tax revenue through county guaranteed deeds at auction.

C) Landfill Improvements: I have a plan to reduce the special assessment by mining Phase 1 utilizing existing staff and equipment to transport excavated waste to active cell while purchasing/leasing separators and other equipment through the duration of mining activities (up to 3 years). Total cost will be equal to what was paid to mine the first 5 acre portion last year saving the county Millions of dollars while providing airspace (landfill capacity) for future waste. Proposals will be made to introduce a specialized recycling industry utilizing incoming waste separation in partnership with local businesses. This will include tire materials (mulch, roadbed), plastic construction materials (blocks, beams, landscape products) electronic waste recycling for plastics and precious metals, ferrous and non-ferrous metal recycling resulting from the breakdown process of incoming truck loads of residential waste.

3. What other issues do you see as important? Contracts being accepted by staff without following proper bidding procedures.

Poor quality roads requiring resurfacing within months of completion.

Lack of access to records from certain departments or agents working for the County.

Policy of holding public meetings to promote a tax and calling it “informational” with no public comment or input allowed.

4. What specific steps will you take to make government more open and accessible to the public? Propose a policy to stop “Informational Meetings” by requiring any public meeting held by staff or elected officials to include a time for public input during the meeting.

I will hold public town hall meetings monthly in my district and encourage other commissioners to do the same.

Propose monthly public workshops with all department heads and elected officials required to present their current budget/spending summary as well as ongoing project statuses while answering questions and concerns from the public. If an answer is not available at that time the citizen will be given their information within 10 days and an update will be provided at the next workshop on that status.

5. Have you ever been convicted of a crime (felony), been disciplined by a professional licensing board or organization or had an ethics violation filed against you? If so, please give details. No

6. Have you ever filed for bankruptcy, been delinquent on your federal, state or local taxes? If so, please give the details. Yes: Bankruptcy, chapter 7, personal, 2007- (Credit Re-Established)

7. Are there any personal details about yourself voters would be interested in knowing? I am fiercely competitive, able to accept constructive criticism and form new perspectives as evidence is evaluated, constantly researching solutions to complicated problems enabling informed decisions. I am patriotic and support other Veterans for God and Country. Able to work well with others while providing mutual respect. I never ask more of someone else than I am willing to do myself.

 

BILL PICKENS

Age: 56

Years living in area: 56

Family: Wife – Holly Pickens, sons – Ian Pickens and Bobby Pickens

Education: Crescent City High School 1978

Current occupation: Self-employed – Business Owner (Peninsular Auto Parts and P&F Mini Storage

Previous employment: None

Military history: None

Volunteer history:

* Rotary Club of Crescent City – 28 years. President in 1993-94 and 2007-08.

* Began the “Swine and Wine” fundraiser that has lasted 22 years and raised over $100,000 for education and youth sports.

* Coached youth sports (South Putnam Little League and Pop Warner Football)

* President of the Crescent City Quarterback Club 2007, 2009-10.

* President of the Georgetown-Fruitland Volunteer Fire Department, 2014-2016. Board member 2011-2013.

* Crescent City Presbyterian Church Session 1994-99, 2003-05, 2009-14.

* Finance Chairman of South Putnam Church 2013-current.

* Putnam County Chamber Board Member 2013-2015, Executive Committee 2013-2014.

Public elected offices: None

Any unsuccessful political campaigns: No

Other political and government experience: Putnam County Planning Commission 2013-2015 Vice Chair (2015) and Member of the Oversight Committee 2015-2016

Endorsements received: Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR)

1. Why should people vote for you? I am qualified for the position of County Commissioner because I have operated two businesses in this county for 30 plus years – managing employees, payroll and budgets in both good and bad economic conditions. I have lived in Putnam County my entire life, which has given me an understanding of the challenges facing our community. I have been extremely involved in many community service projects. I am prepared to be part of the Board of County Commissioners to make Putnam County a better place to live, work and raise a family.

2. What are the three most important issues you would address if elected and how would you address them?

* Economic Development – Continue to work with the Chamber of Commerce to attract businesses and promote a more positive image in our county.  In addition to working with the Chamber there needs to be a collaborative effort between our school officials, the college, the city and other community and business leaders all working together with the common goal of improving the county as a whole.

* Balancing the Budget – the reliance on the use of reserve funds to balance the budget must come to an end. My goal would be to analyze the utilization rates of the current county departments and make reductions that will least affect our population.

* Promote a Positive Image for Putnam County – Focus on our positives such as the natural beauty of our county. Encourage buying local - Promote a live here buy here mentality to increase our sales tax dollars.

3. What other issues do you see as important? Improve the quality of life for all Putnam County Citizens – focus on the areas of health care, schools, business retention and improved recreational facilities for youth and adults.

4. What specific steps will you take to make government more open and accessible to the public?

As a county commissioner I will be accessible to the citizens of the county through phone and/or email. I will listen and respond. I will also be more than willing to have face to face conversation to listen to concerns of the public.

Entertain the possibility of a percentage of the commission meetings to be held at 5:00 in an effort to increase citizen participation.

I plan to have quarterly town hall meetings within my district and I will be a willing participant in town hall meetings throughout the county.

5. Have you ever been convicted of a crime (felony), been disciplined by a professional licensing board or organization or had an ethics violation filed against you? If so, please give details. No.

6. Have you ever filed for bankruptcy, been delinquent on your federal, state or local taxes? If so, please give the details. No.

7. Are there any personal details about yourself voters would be interested in knowing? In operating an auto parts store and a mini storage facility for 30 plus years I have listened to my customers to understand their needs.  I will be a commissioner that listens and hears the needs of Putnam County citizens and responds to those needs.

Through my community service I have learned how to work with different groups and people to reach a common goal.  The commission has to work as a whole group in order to move our county forward.

It is important that we all remember that we are all in this together!