Mayor’s ‘spouse’ stirs up Bradenton Beach commission race

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By Merab-Michal Favorite

If you ask Tjet Martin why she’s running for office, you’ll get a response “I want to stir things up a bit.”

The 52-year –old Chicago native did just that when she picked up a registration packet from the Bradenton Beach city clerk’s office May 30.

Martin said she plans to run for the Ward 4 commission seat, against incumbent Jan Vosburgh.

However, Martin is no ordinary candidate; she and her longtime partner, Bill Shearon run Linger Longer rentals, 302 Gulf Drive.

Did I mention Shearon also happens be the mayor of Bradenton Beach?

“Everyone has been asking, ‘what about Sunshine?’’ Martin said. “The truth is, we have better things to talk about.”

Because the mayor serves as part of the commission, it is illegal under Florida Statute for him to discuss city topics with other members of the commission in any setting other than a public forum.

Scott Farrington, assistant supervisor of elections for Manatee County, said there is nothing in the election laws that would prevent Martin from running for the commission seat.

“We can only speak for the election laws,” he said. “Obviously there are ethical concerns in this situation but there is nothing we can do to prevent her from registering.”

Martin said residents should not be concerned that the mayor would play favorites if she wins the commission seat.

“Anyone who knows us knows that we are very different people with very different viewpoints,” she said. “We both feel strongly about our own opinions and they differ greatly.”

However, Martin may have another conflict of interest.

She and former planning and zoning board member Jo Ann Meilner are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2012, which challenges the city’s approval of an agreement with ELRA Inc., allowing construction of a parking lot on a vacant parcel south of the BeachHouse Restaurant.

The lawsuit originally listed Shearon who was also a P&Z board member at the time, but he withdrew after winning the November municipal election.

Martin said if she wins, she also would withdraw from the lawsuit and recuse herself from any related agenda items.

“If I don’t win, I’m not going to withdraw,” she said. “ELRA is a bully, and I don’t tolerate bullies.”

Martin said she hopes her decision to run will prompt others to register.

“This city needs a healthy election,” she said. “Someone needs to run against the incumbent commissioners, they shouldn’t just win by default.

The Ward 2 commission seat is also up for grabs on November 4. Incumbent Ed Straight has registered to run, but so far has had no challengers.

Both Straight and Vosburgh ran unopposed in 2012.

Martin accused the current commission of trying to micromanage the city. She said given the opportunity, she would trust city employees to do their job.

She would also like to see the city budget back in the black. A recent audit determined the city was spending more than it had taken in.

Martin has called Bradenton Beach home for the last 11 years.

She was one of eight children raised by factory workers in North Chicago.

She said she realized she was good a building things early on.

Her mechanical talents earned her a job manufacturing machinery in a local factory, a career she says she greatly enjoyed. However, it was cut short when she suffered a work-related injury.

Martin was a server at a German restaurant when she met Shearon.

“He was a regular and basically swept me off my feet,” she said.

The couple was “snowbird cruisers,” living on a boat in Illinois over the summer and sailing to Longboat Key during the winters.

Eventually, they took root in Bradenton Beach and have lived there ever since.

Martin currently serves on the Scenic Waves Committee.

Residents have until June 20 to register to run for office.

Candidate packets are available at the city clerk’s office at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., or at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office, 600 301 Blvd. W., Bradenton.

Applicants are required to have established residency within the city for 90 days and be registered to vote in the ward for which they qualify.

The candidate must pay a qualifying fee equal to 1 percent of the annual salary for the office sought — $96 for mayor, $48 for commission seat — and obtain 10 petition signatures of voters residing in the city.

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