(Mc)Clash of the Titans
GOVERNMENT WATCH by Pam McTeer | Contributing Writer
A rising public clash between Lakewood Ranch President Rex Jensen and Manatee County Commissioner Joe
McClash is becoming more common on the Gulf Coast.
Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President Rex Jensen haven't spoken in three years, but their difference of opinion has become quite a public dispute.
A week after being ridiculed by Jensen, McClash issued a 15-page packet that questions Jensen's professionalism and highlights transportation woes he says were caused by Lakewood Ranch's development.
"This isn't typical behavior of company management," McClash says of Jensen. "In all the years of a county commissioner, this is probably the most unprofessional act I've ever seen."
At a Manatee Chamber of Commerce meeting last week, Jensen challenged the "ineffective leadership" of some members of the commission and dubbed Manatee commissioners as "anti-business."
During Jensen's slide presentation, the screen flashed to images of Jensen and McClash charging one another as a boxing announcer sounded, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to rumble."
Jensen is out of the country, and SMR officials did not wish to comment. Lakewood Ranch spokesperson Sondra Guffey says SMR currently is drafting a response, calling McClash's comments inaccurate.
Guffey says the errors are technical and would take time before SMR can release information.
McClash's packet was a compilation of information about the traffic impact SMR has had on State Roads 64 and 70. McClash strongly disagrees that the board was anti-business, noting how the board has approved the Lakewood Ranch Commerce Park project three times.
The at-large commissioner says the letters to stockholders was important because those individuals may not know how their leadership is behaving.
"To me, it's not a personal issue, it's a matter of me doing what my job is - protecting this community's quality of life," McClash says. "For somebody to try to make a personal issue out of following the community's land-use laws is blatantly stating that (they) don't care what our laws are to follow."
McClash has become increasingly opposed to approving developments near busy roadways. A similar dispute occurred last summer regarding who was responsible for paying for improvements to SR-64. McClash led the board to advance $32 million to fund the two-mile stretch from Lena Road to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. At that point, SMR had contributed $80 million in arterial road construction.
In his letter, McClash also asked to find solutions or alternatives to eight-laning the recently completed six-laning of SR-70, the eight-laning of SR-64, including bridges over the Braden River and the desire by SMR to put additional traffic impacts on busy roads such as SR-64.
McClash's letter to SMR shareholders
During the past week, comments have been made by your representative that made it necessary for me to ensure you have accurate information.
Schroeder-Manatee and your associated entities have accomplished turning vacant lands to a vibrant, master-planned community. This development effort requires a massive amount of infrastructure to support everything from roads to parks.
My involvement, as a commissioner, dates back to 1990. The co-operative leadership under John Clarke allowed the county and Schroeder-Manatee to proceed in a professional dialogue. I, personally, identified the lands for Lakewood Ranch Regional Park, where the county agreed to build Lakewood Ranch Boulevard from SR-70 to SR-64 in exchange for the dedication to the county of approximately 100 acres and the building of 20 acres of soccer fields. It was the first time the school board, the county and a private developer worked to accomplish what seemed to be an overwhelming task. Over the years, I focused on meeting road needs surrounding the development east of the interstate primarily where your development is centered.
I personally fought to accomplish the following to help provide the infrastructure needed:
• Advancing the funds for the PD&D for SR-64
• Advancing the funds to six-lane SR-64 above the four lanes required by US Home from I-75 to Lena Road;
• Advancing the funds to construct the currently failing SR-64 to SR-70;
• The completion of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard from SR-64 to SR-70 (the recommendation was to only construct from SR-70 south to Lakewood Ranch High School);
• Advancing funds for SR-70 from U.S. 301 to I-75 and from I-75 to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
The county has cooperated proactively trying to assist development. In our northern county, more than 20 developers have grouped together to help plan and build infrastructure. I wish I could say the same for the area around Schroeder-Manatee properties.
The attitude has changed since the days under John Clarke's leadership. The lack of wanting to understand the land-use laws of Manatee County and the state, as well as the expectation of our citizens, is not an acceptable position for your company. Our citizens, your customers, want the infrastructure built when development proceeds. To allow development to occur when we have failing roadways is not acceptable to our citizens nor is it in compliance with our land-use laws.
Enclosed is a newspaper article that provides the example of how your leadership is handling the issue of growth. If showing a group of business leaders a slide of myself and your leader banging heads and playing the sport theme of "Let's get ready to rumble" is acceptable, then read no more.
However, if the county and your company would like to resolve significant challenges in a professional manner as we did with previous leadership, please let us know who can represent your interest, as I am sure this is better than someone wanting to start a fight.
The significant challenges are mainly transportation related. We need to find solutions for alternatives to:
• Eight-laning of the recently completed six-laning of SR-70;
• The eight-laning of SR-64 including bridges over the Braden River;
• The desire to put additional traffic impacts and failing roads such as SR-64.
One solution I suggested more than three years ago to your company representative is the 44th Avenue Extension. This one project alone would provide long-term solutions verses a piece-meal approach most would find unacceptable.
Thank you for allowing me to provide some information to help create a better working relationship versus the desire to fight. In this economy, it is easy to blame someone else for their own failures. I am not here to place blame, but to develop solutions to ensure our citizens are protected from the failure to provide needed infrastructure.
If you need more information or would like to reach me, please feel free to give me a call at (941) 745-3714 or e-mail me at [email protected].