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Manning ready to return to county commission

By Staff | Jul 10, 2010

It’s been roughly 10 years since John Manning sat in a county commissioner’s chair, and in that time Lee County has gone from a real estate gold boom town to one of the hardest hit areas of the recession.
Manning knows he’s got his work cut out for him, not only facing those challenges, but filling the shoes left vacant by the passing of Commissioner Bob Janes earlier this year.
It’s an opportunity Manning didn’t fully trust he was going to have, as Gov. Charlie Crist took his time choosing Jane’s successor.
As the process dragged on, Manning said he was caught unaware when one of the governor’s aides phoned late Wednesday with the news.
“I was surprised to get the call, I didn’t even think he was going to make an appointment,” Manning said.
Manning will be sworn in on July 27, and be in the seat for his first meeting on Aug. 10, when commissioners return from their summer break.
He will immediately jump into a budget cycle that’s boasting severe shortages.
Lee County Commissioners recently deadlocked on what do with Lee’s tax rate.
That tie could mean Lee’s millage rate could jump from $3.65 for every $1,000 in taxable value, to $4.28 for every $1,000 in taxable value.
But the commissioners still have plenty of time to work on that process before the millage is set.
A budget workshop is scheduled for some time in August, and the first hearing is set for Sept. 8, before the property tax rate is finally decided on Sept. 23.
New, and returning, Commissioner Manning knows how important the budget process is. He said it was the first, but by no means, only thing he has his eyes set on once he finally takes the seat.
Manning wants to work on regional partnerships between counties, and boost jobs across Lee.
He said he’s been batting around the idea of a “micro loan program” through the Industrial Development Association, using fees from loans to entice new business in Lee.
His time away from public service has been crucial he said, in giving him an insight into the processes by which people govern.
Having worked with an environmental engineering firm that’s advised cities and counties statewide, it’s given him a unique perspective.
“It’s been a really good break for me, and given me a snapshot of how other counties and municipalities operate,” he said.
There were nearly 30 people vying to be appointed to Bob Janes’ seat after he passed in March. Manning was appointed over applicants including former School Board member Bob Chilmonik, former Smart Growth Director Wayne Daltry, current city council member Bill Deile, and Janes’ own daughter Susan Janes Flinn.
Lee County Commission Chairwoman Tammy Hall said she was happy Gov. Charlie Crist finally made a selection.
Pleased that Crist chose someone with previous experience as the budget cycle is about to begin in earnest, Hall said she was also disappointed it took so long to fill the seat.
With only four commissioners, she said it has done a disservice to the people of Lee County.
“We’ve been operating nearly four months with only four commissioners. For the most part, we’ve operated efficiently, but it would have been nice to have five commissioners for as much of that time as possible,” she said.
Manning’s familiarity with the job will make a learning curve virtually non-existent, Hall added.
For his part, Manning said he’s ready to get to work.
He knows a tough job is ahead, especially with a special election coming up in November to place someone in the seat for the remainder of the term. He’ll be facing many of the same names he did during the appointment process.
Manning hopes to retain the seat during the special election primary in August.
“I look forward to (people’s) support in the Aug. 21 primary,” he said. “I’ll be able to prove myself on the job.”
Also running are Christopher Berardi, former Cape Coral City Council member; Mike Jackson, former Cape Coral Economic Development director; Carla Brooks Johnston, former Sanibel mayor; and Bob Chilmonik, former Lee County School Board member and a Cape resident.
All, except Johnston, who is running without party affiliation, are Republicans.
Just like bridging the gap between counties in Southwest Florida, Manning hopes to bridge the gap between Cape Coral and the rest of Lee.
A Cape resident, Manning said it was important for the city and the county to embrace one another, hoping the two sides can work together and get Lee county moving in a positive direction.
“Cape Coral is very important for all of us,” he said. “There’s no sense to be an island.”