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Ralph Thomas seeks re-election

Ralph Thomas seeks re-election

Commission Chairman wants to continue public service in second term

Printed in the Wakulla News, Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 12:28 pm (Updated: September 28, 12:29 pm)

Special to The News


Ralph Thomas is a lifelong servant.
     As Wakulla County Commission Chairman, the District 1 incumbent is in a position to continue that level of service to the community for another four years.
     Thomas served our country in the U.S. Navy. He is proud to be a veteran and is proud to live in a county that honors the service of more than 3,000 veterans who live in Wakulla County. He has worked hard for the past four years serving and representing the citizens of Wakulla County at the local and state level. He continues to advocate for small and efficient government that is a good steward of the people’s money. He recently voted with the board for a 3 percent reduction in property taxes. He voted against the board for a tax increase that occurred in 2015. He is the only candidate for District 1 County Commissioner who has never voted for a tax increase. He is an outspoken advocate for individual freedom and property rights.
     “I am not a county commissioner because I know what is best for you,” Thomas said. “I am a county commissioner because I understand that you know what is best for you. I’m here to make sure the government serves you, and not the other way around.”
     Thomas formally announces his run for reelection. He qualified for reelection back in June, however, recent changes to the County Charter specify, when only two candidates qualify, both candidates will skip the Primary Election and will appear on the General Election Ballot on Nov. 8. To avoid any confusion, Commissioner Thomas chose to make this announcement after the Primary was complete.
     Commissioner Thomas currently represents Wakulla County in District 1. He is being challenged by his fellow Commissioner Howard Kessler, who previously represented District 4 and currently represents District 3 but chose not to run for re-election in his current district, instead would now like to un-seat Thomas and represent District 1.
     Thomas was first elected in 2012. His goal was to be actively involved in all aspects of county government to ensure sound decisions were made that would benefit the citizens of Wakulla County. From the moment he was sworn in, he hit the ground running with an intense desire to be more than a part-time commissioner. In addition to official board meetings, commissioners are required to serve on various committees. At his first official meeting on Dec. 3, 2012, he agreed to serve on seven additional committees even though he was a new commissioner with a full-time private job. At that same meeting, Commissioner Kessler stated he wanted to serve on zero committees because he has other projects and would not be able to devote the time. Commissioner Thomas’ committees include Wakulla County Coalition for Youth, Tourist Development Council, Wakulla Value Adjustment Board, Wakulla State Forest Liaison, Small County Coalition, Gulf Consortium, and the North Florida Broadband Authority. Commissioner Thomas stated he was willing to make the commitment to so many committees because they make a tremendous impact on the citizens of Wakulla, and he wanted to support them and strengthen the value they bring to our community.
     Wakulla County Coalition for Youth currently manages the Community Center. The original plan for the Community Center was to turn it over to the YMCA for management. That plan would have required financial support from local tax dollars and required dues to be paid by citizens who use the Community Center. Commissioner Thomas fought against this plan. As an alternative option, he proposed to make the Community Center part of the 21st Century Leaning Center Program, an academic enrichment program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to being elected, he helped bring the 21st Century program to Wakulla County through a partnership with his church and Tallahassee Community College. Ultimately, an agreement was made to shift the program to the community center. To date, this decision has brought in more than $2 million in grant funds to the Community Center. TCC continues to provide management and oversight of the program. The shift away from the YMCA proposal also allowed an agreement to be made with the Wakulla County Coalition for Youth to oversee the daily operation of the Community Center. WCCY secured a grant with the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, a private, nonprofit corporation dedicated to shaping prevention policy and investing in innovative prevention programs that provide measurable benefits to our state’s children, families and communities. This grant has brought in an additional $873,000 in grant funds to the Community Center.
     The Tourist Development Council is funded from the Tourist Development tax, which is paid by visitors to Wakulla County who utilize short term overnight lodging for periods less than six months, such as hotels and the Wakulla Springs Lodge. As a TDC member, Thomas has participated in managing more than $962,000, including a BP tourism grant for $500,000. More than a year was spent replacing the old TDC website with a state of the art Destination Management system that attracts visitors, and their dollars, from all over the world and helps them plan their trips to Wakulla County.
     For the past four years, Thomas has served as chairman of the Value Adjustment Board. He also served on this board as a citizen representative for several years before he was elected. The Value Adjustment Board is the appeal process for property owners who disagree with the value assigned to their property by the Wakulla County Property Appraiser.
     Thomas has been the board’s representative to the Small County Coalition for the past four years. The Small County Coalition is a non-partisan statewide alliance of county commissions in Florida’s small and rural counties. Their primary mission is to help Florida’s small and rural counties address legislative issues from a small county/rural perspective and work effectively with state agencies leadership. They support programs that improve the financial viability and fiscal capacity of Florida’s local governments in small counties. Thomas serves on the Executive Committee of the Coalition, working up the ranks, he first served as the Northern Gulf Region Representative for Wakulla, Franklin, Gulf, Walton, Jefferson, and Santa Rosa counties. He is currently the Vice Chairman and is slated to become Chairman in 2017.
     After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Gulf Consortium was created in 2012 as a public entity made up of Florida’s 23 Gulf Coast counties to meet the requirements of the Restore Act to develop a State Expenditure Plan for economic and environmental recovery of the Gulf Coast in Florida. Thomas and County Administrator David Edwards were appointed by the Board to represent Wakulla County on the Gulf Consortium. The Consortium was awarded $4.6 million for development of the State Expenditure Plan. It is estimated, Wakulla County will receive approximately $12,424,783 through the Consortium.
     Thomas has been an active advocate for Wakulla County to the State Legislature. In 2014, land became available in Shell Point. The Board was interested in building a public boat ramp and parking facility for vehicles and trailers. Thomas was instrumental in working with the Legislature and securing an appropriation of $735,000 to build the facility. The ramp was recently opened to allow residents of Shell Point and Oyster Bay to remove their boats before landfall of Hurricane Hermine.
     During the 2014 session, the City of St. Marks had a municipal doc project make it through the Legislature, only to find the project on the Governor’s Veto List. Commissioner Thomas, St. Marks City Manager Zoe Mansfield, and Intergovernmental Affairs Director Sheree Keeler, joined together, visited the governor’s office and made a presentation on the benefit the dock would provide to St. Marks and Wakulla County. The Governor signed the legislation approving an appropriation of $1,051,660.
     After being elected in 2012, Thomas attended the New Commissioner Training with the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) and immediately began an 18 month process to become a Certified County Commissioner. He received the certification in June of 2014. Afterwards, he took the next step in the training process. One year later he completed the Advanced County Commissioner certification. He has received numerous awards and appointments from FAC including; Board of Directors for the past three years, Legislative Executive Committee, Rural Caucus Vice Chairman, Rural Caucus Chairman, Growth Management, Agriculture and Environment Committee Vice Chairman, Curriculum Review Committee, Torchbearer which is awarded to ACC graduates who continue to participate in FAC activities and educational offerings after completion of the ACC certification, Presidential Advocacy Award for 2015 and 2016 for helping shape the organization’s policy platform on issues facing rural counties and providing guidance on policy throughout the Legislative session including the defeat of efforts that would have mandated local governments pay for the costs of moving private utility equipment for non-transportation related projects. In anticipation of the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), the FAC created a Steering Committee for which Commissioner Ralph Thomas was selected to serve on. The charge of this Steering Committee will be to research and recommend draft CRC proposals and amendments, and to actively engage with the CRC by attending and participating in public hearings. The committee will also recommend to the Legislative Executive Committee the FAC’s positions on CRC proposals and strategize on appointments to the CRC.
     “This is an historic event in that the Florida CRC occurs only once every 20 years and has the potential of creating long lasting impacts by changing Florida’s Constitution,” stated Lisa Hurley, FAC Legislative Director, “As such the success of our platform depends on active engagement and participation from Commissioner Thomas and fellow committee members.”
     Thomas was also elected to the Florida Association of Counties Trust, Board of Trustees (FACT) to represent the interest of Wakulla County as well as all other Florida member Counties. FACT is a group self-insurance program owned and operated by 22 member counties. FACT was formed by Florida Counties in 1989 to provide its’ member Counties with affordable liability coverage, including General Liability, Auto Liability, Public Officials Liability and Employment Practices Liability. The FACT program is managed by an 11 member Board of Trustees. Each Trustee is a Public Official from one of the member counties.
     In closing, Thomas stated, “Wakulla County is our home. I am blessed to live here, surrounded by friends and neighbors who genuinely care about each other. I have traveled the world and I’m always proud to proclaim, I’m from Wakulla! For the past four years I have been proud to serve you and represent you. I want the legislators in Tallahassee to know who we are as a county. I want to make sure they understand our needs as citizens of the State of Florida. I want to protect our county from unfunded mandates by the state, and encroachments on our ability to govern our county based on the needs of our citizens. It has been one of the great honors of my life to serve you. On Nov. 8, 2016, I humbly ask for your vote and the honor of continuing to serving you.”

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