Election 2010: Q&A with Mark Hawkins, Democratic candidate for Sarasota County Commission, District 4

October 22nd, 2010 by Susan Nilon in NewsPoliticsSarasota-Manatee

markhawkinsA 50-year resident of Sarasota, Democrat Mark Hawkins sits down with Creative Loafing to talk about how he plans to improve Sarasota County.
CL: What inspired you to run for office?
Mark Hawkins: Sarasota County building department put out an ordinance that — for the most part — shut down all remodel and construction of existing building on all barrier islands. It put Realtors, contractors, architects, and everyone that was involved out of work. It also limited what homeowners could do for their homes. After two years of working on it, we had that ordinance thrown out. Being involved with that process, I could see that there was a need for someone to be on the county board that had a background in business and a background in construction.
Do you feel that you have that?
I think my experience in life puts me in a unique position where I have 50 years of experience in Sarasota and 30 years of business experience in the areas that I believe a commissioner needs to have on a daily basis. They are constantly delaying with developers, contractor’s issues, procurement issues, construction of baseball parks — you name it. A lot of their time is spent deciding if things can get constructed or not and if it gets constructed — how?
Do you feel that the Commission is lacking someone with experience in construction? 
I think it is lacking someone with current business knowledge. With the person that I am running against (Nora Patterson); she ran a small nursery in 1973 and worked that for a few years. She taught school for a few years in the 1970’s, and she worked in real estate for a few years. Even though she has business experience, I believe that her experience is not at the level of my business experience. My experience is on a more current and more useable for what our business situation is in Sarasota County at this point.
Currently we have what Jon Thaxton calls an “anti-business climate.” In a report done by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) given to the County Commissioners on April 27th, the report stated: “The overall business owner’s managers dissatisfaction with the overall business climate in Sarasota County seems to be at an all time high — growing to about 84 percent.  44 percent of the business owners are very dissatisfied with Sarasota County and 40 percent are somewhat dissatisfied.” So we have a climate that is 85 percent unhappy here. 19 percent of business owners are considering moving their businesses out of Sarasota County. And they are not doing that because they are going out of business. They are doing that because they don’t like the business climate in Sarasota. We over-regulate, over-permit, over ordinance, and over code enforce. We don’t give them the opportunity for growth.
My opponent doesn’t seem to think that we have a negative business climate, but we do. As a small business person, I can identify with that because I have had to deal with the same issues and what we need to do is have a climate in Sarasota County where small businesses feel that they are a part of the answer. Not just a part of the problem.  
How would you change the business climate in Sarasota County?
We need to get everyone together to solve the issues; not just finding and imposing ordinances — working out the problems. Coming from corporate America and being a general contractor, what I do every day is solve problems. And I think I can solve these types of problems by doing that kind of interaction with everybody.
Considering that you are a contractor, how will you deal with criticism or fear of over-growth and urban sprawl?
I’m a general contractor, but I am not a developer. I never have been a developer. My thought on Sarasota County is that we should keep the 2050 plan in place. I am for that. I don’t believe in urban sprawl. I think we should infill first all of the vacant lots and vacant property on this side of I-75.
In my election I am not backed by one developer or one builder. So when I sit down with a Pat Neal or I sit down with a Benderson or a Rodriguez — these people that are big developers in this area — I can look across the table from them and they haven’t given me any money.
How do you feel about projects like the Fruitville Initiative?
My concern is that the people that live out in this area are out there because they like the rural area and they like the rural concept of where they are living. We have to do this in such a way that these people don’t feel that all of a sudden that they are in the middle of an industrial park or some other high end area. We have to protect the residents that are already there.
It has been quoted in the paper that your opponent, Commissioner Patterson, feels that you are just an echo of her Republican opponent in the primary, Mark Smith. How do you respond to that?
Mark Smith is a good friend of mine. He is also someone in business at this time whose beliefs are similar to mine. I believe in a smaller government and I believe a pro-business economy. If that makes us echoes, then that makes us echoes. And I am okay with that.
How do you feel you are different than your opponent, and what is it that you feel you could bring to the table that she couldn’t?
Let’s just talk about the differences between our two campaigns.  Nora is a 20-year incumbent and wants four more before she will retire. I am a first time politician that sees things differently because of my business background and my life experiences in Sarasota County. Those new ideas and that new insight will help Sarasota County government. Secondly, her campaign has spent $175,000. She is backed by special interest, all of the major developers, and all of the major builders. In the primary, she was backed by PAC money.
If elected, what is the first thing you want to take on?
Well, I don’t think there is one particular thing. But I will say that we have 21,000 people out of work. My first issues will be to get these people back to work. The EDC — we have paid them $4.5 million since 2007 and they have only been able to bring around a 1000 jobs. And those aren’t guaranteed. So, part of our problem is that we have so many people out of work and we have a construction industry that is flat. We only issue 30 permits in Sarasota County a month and in Manatee County they issue about 300 a month. The difference is that they have softened the impact fees and have made it easier for builders to build and buyers to buy. I have said through out my campaign that I would like to see impact fees suspended for a couple of years.
When you couple our construction being flat, 21,000 people out of work, and we have an anti-business client, you have a bad situation. We want to bring in new business. We have to diversify. We can’t just keep living off of our service industry. We have to diversify. We have never done it.  It’s time. And those are the things I would work on.
Last words?
I think I have a good overview of what this community needs. I’m an environmentalist. I am concerned about our water. I am concerned about our beaches. I am concerned about our green areas and our parks. I would like to do more for the arts because there is not enough of that being promoted through our tourism board. I would like to increase our budget for the tourism board so we can do more advertising for Sarasota.
Even though I love the idea of Benderson Park, I am really disappointed that our tourism board and our EDC, over the last two years, weren’t able to work with Manatee County and get them to buy in on Benderson Park. They (Manatee County) are going to get huge amounts of money because of Benderson Park and yet Manatee County isn’t putting up one dime. I think it’s a real failure of our tourism board and our EDC. I think it speaks to — that Sarasota County Government seems to take things on by itself and I think that environment needs to change. I know I can change that.