One of the great Election Day conundrums voters face occurs when they reach the part of the ballot marked “Soil and Water Conservation District.”
There usually are a bunch of names there you’ve never heard of, and unless one of them happens to be a close friend or relative you probably don’t know anything about them. But the feedback we have received here at Florida Politics tells us that way more than a few voters want to make an informed choice.
The dilemma: There just aren’t a lot of ways to find out why someone wants to be elected to this job that pays nothing but is important nonetheless.
So, I gave it a shot to do my civic duty and offer Hillsborough County voters some knowledge about the candidates who want their support. I emailed each candidate and asked three questions:
1) Why are you running for this position?
2) Do you have a background and/or heightened interest and experience in conservation that you would bring to the District?
3) What do you see as the greatest priority of the District?
There are 11 candidates in three Hillsborough Soil and Water Districts. I received replies from five of them and am offering their comments here.
If other candidates want to reply before Election Day, we’ll update this post and let you know what they say.
JOSHUA CARRASCO: I am running for the Soil and Water Conservation District as a concerned citizen. The biggest challenge facing the District is lack of public awareness. If elected, I want to make Hillsborough County residents more aware of the vital work being done by the District.
My background includes seven years of broadcast journalism and four years of public relations experience. I want to engage more members of the community in the conservation efforts of the District through public relations campaigns. Many Hillsborough County residents are very interested in conservation but have no idea of the role the District plays in their community.
The only contact most residents have with the District is during an election when they play “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” with candidates. I want to effect change by educating residents on of the work being done by the Soil and Water Conservation District.
Education and Awareness are the two greatest priorities for the District. I think the District does a great job educating and assisting local farmers, youth organizations, and schools, but few people are aware of the activities of the District. If elected, my priority will be to find opportunities to raise awareness of District initiatives.
KATHY ECKDAHL: (no reply received)
MICHAEL HEGERTY: I was born and raised in Hillsborough County, I have family in farming and I know a lot about our environment here locally. My plan is to pass a Tier System to keep a balance in Hillsborough County.
Subdivisions are the cancer of Florida, we must keep the balance of Agricultural and Environment. This will keep the food prices down and protect our water supply and native animals. The current zoning laws in Hillsborough County do none of this. They are easily changed and provide no future balance.
DAVID MAYNARD: I am glad to be running for a third consecutive four-year term as Supervisor One on the Hillsborough County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Most of our work falls into two areas: education and assistance to small farmers.
We provide competitions and other activities for students in cooperating schools, and the home-schooled, that require participants to learn information about our environment and agriculture. We organize land-judging contests, poster contests with designated subjects, speech contests, and school garden contests. We also promote the work of long-established youth agricultural groups such as Future Farmers of America and 4-H. We have in addition helped establish Community Gardens, which are educational for all the residents, throughout the county.
We help small farmers with our cost-sharing program as well as other incentive-based programs. In addition, we work collaboratively with State and Federal agriculture-related agencies, as well as organizations such as the Farm Bureau and Strawberry Growers’ Association.
What makes ours different from the other purely tax-supported entities is that we also fund-raise to support our many activities. We also receive donations for our work from individuals and businesses, small and large.
As you have written our positions are unpaid, but for me, it is rewarding nonetheless as I know we are providing an essential service for our county. Certainly, my superior experience is a superior asset but more important is my dedication. I know I am the best qualified to hold Seat One on the District. As for my three opponents, I can only say that no one has bothered to attend even one of the many candidate forums and other candidate events that have I have attended throughout Hillsborough County.
MICHAEL HEPBURN (no reply received)
I’m running for this position because I believe it is important for more young people to not just vote but to run for office. We all have a responsibility to be the change we want to see in the world and the best way to do that is to start here at the local level.
I may not have experience as a conservationist but I will do what’s best for my community. I have spent my almost my whole life helping others and taking care of our fragile ecosystem is the biggest responsibility that we have. As Soil and Water officials, part of the job description is just that. Being better stewards of nature and teaching others how to pay it forward so we can still have an earth to pass down to future generations.
The greatest priority for this district is accountability. For too long we have let corporations walk all over us. For example, corporations like Mosaic, have polluted our environment and has essentially brought our elections. If elected, I would make sure that companies that pollute our environment will not get special treatment.
I have been sitting on the sidelines for many years, watching as the people I believed in politics continuously either failed to follow up on words or policies they proclaimed during their campaigns or ignored wide swaths of the population entirely. I have also been trying to become more involved in my local government, becoming more aware of who people are that are making decisions for us every day.
Soil and Water Conservation District 3 was very simply the lowest barrier to entry position to run for, and additionally and perhaps most importantly deals with natural resources that require someone who will fight against the inconsideration and greed of corporations and those who subsist off of their campaign contributions. It is important to note, however, that the District is a non-regulatory body, meaning the power is still very much in the hands of those who would deny their responsibilities to the next generation of Floridians and specifically the children of Hillsborough County.
I do not have a technical background. I do however have experience in living through times in which soil and water are consistently abused. I know that the Everglades is dying because of the agricultural pursuits of Big Sugar and other corporate farming entities. I know that less rain in Florida leads to rationing water, that the water table will not continue to replenish itself if we do not make decisions to limit our use. That agricultural entities use fertilizers and pesticides that end up in our drinking water and endanger the lives of the wildlife around us. I know that one day I want my kids to live here and that I want other people’s kids to live here and enjoy that same quality of life that is currently available in Hillsborough County.
The greatest priority of the District to be to pressure our local politicians and businesses to make choices that guarantee continued water and soil quality for future generations.
Thank you and I want to point out that I fully support the ideas set forth by Mr. Pierre-Louis as well.
ANDREW BROOKS: I am running for the elected position because I was born in Tampa and raised in Odessa. The county has a special place in my heart because it is where I grew up. From playing in the county parks as an elementary school kid to this past weekend kayaking out in Cockroach Bay.
I am passionate about the outdoors and want to have a direct say and oversight in how we protect and promote the beauty we as residents and as neighbors have surrounding us. It is personal for me and will continue to win or lose to do everything I can to improve our county’s natural treasures.
My background in conservation comes from a “boatload” of statewide volunteer work. From beach cleanups to working on 1000-plus acre pine forest in Levy County. I have experience working alongside Florida Division of Forestry, US Department of Agriculture, Florida Fish and Wildlife (both biologists and law enforcement,) University of Florida Biology department, Ducks Unlimited, etc.
I worked with these entities on projects ranging from soil sampling, native wildlife management, prescribed fires, helping properties owners qualify for state and federal forestry grants, wetlands conservation and much more.
I believe the greatest priority in the department of soil and water conservation is to promote countywide education programs aimed at inspiring local youth to take notice of how lucky they are to grow up in a region with such diverse ecosystems and to hopefully instill a passion in them for caring for the environment. I specifically remember when I was at Claywell Elementary as a student and the department came in with corporate sponsors to teach about the water cycle and the Florida Aquifer. Little things like that really do make a lasting impression on students, enough so that I can still picture it today over 20 years later.
MATT GOZDOR: I grew up in the Detroit area in the 70’s and 80’s. This was a time when environmental regulations were in their infancy. I remember playing with my friends in the summer and my lungs burning because of the air pollution. I also remember not being able to fish in Lake Erie because it was dead.
I am a natural problem-solver and wanted to be a part of the solution. So, I earned a BS in Environmental Science and an MS in Hydrology. I became a soil and water scientist (hydrogeologist) and work as an environmental consultant helping companies assess and clean up contaminated properties.
I want to use my education, experience, and knowledge gained over the last 20 years to serve Hillsborough County by helping to conserve our resources.
My education and work experience over the last 20 years are directly applicable to the position I seek. It should also be noted that the Soil and Water Board has roughly a half-million-dollar budget annually. In my position as an environmental consultant, I annually manage between a half million and a million dollars of work.
Additionally, the Soil and Water Board is responsible for outreach to schools. As Vice Chair of another board, I was responsible for a charity BBQ that helped raise over $8,000 for college scholarships in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
Reducing water use from the Floridan aquifer is the greatest priority of the District. Tampa Bay Water’s Current supply is projected to meet the region’s water needs through 2028 even with expected population growth.
Anything that the Soil and Water Board can do to help farmers and private landowners to reduce consumptive use of Floridan aquifer water and either maintain or improve crop yield, etc. is a step in the right direction.
TRAVIS MEDLING (no reply received)
RAY YOUNG (no reply received)