Meet the candidates for Okeechobee County Commission: District 1

OKEECHOBEE — In the county commission district 1 race, candidates filed are Phil Baughman (REP), Mark Brandel (REP), David Hazellief (REP), Michael Slayton (NPA) and Keith White (REP). County commission terms are four years.  Annual salary is $35,104.

Okeechobee County Commission lost its representative from District 1 with the passing of Commissioner Ray Domer. This seat has been vacant since Aug. 17, 2014.

If you are wondering where lines for the districts are, here is a link to a map.

Although the candidates must live in the district they seek to represent, voting for all county commission seats is countywide.

Phil Baughman

Okeechobee County voters will have a lot of choices to make at the polls this year, including three county commission seats.

Mr. Baughman is a graduate of Okeechobee High School, and of Diesel Mechanic School. Mr. Baughman has owned and operated B&B Site Development, Inc. for the past 31 years. He is been an active member of the Land Improvement Contractors of America and over the years he has held various offices with that organization, including serving as Regional Vice President and National President.

Phil Baughman

Phil Baughman

Due to participation on various boards, “I have a vast knowledge of parliamentary procedure,” he said.

He has lived in Okeechobee for 38 years.

Mr. Baughman and his wife, Michelle, have been married for 31 years and have two sons, Brandon and Brent. The Baughmans also have two grandchildren.

He said his family moved to Okeechobee because they loved the safety of the school system and area.

“We also loved that the people were so friendly; the people made it easy to make Okeechobee our new home,” he explained.

He said his experience in business has prepared him to serve on the county commission.

“Business management is a major part of my job,” he said. “I know the importance of working within a budget that is given to me. It is something I do on a daily basis.

“I also deal with the public regularly, I know the importance of being friendly yet persuasive in order to get things done without confrontation,” he added.

Mr. Baughman said, if elected, he plans to devote as much time to the job of county commissioner as necessary.

“I believe it is a job that requires countless hours of work and dedication, based on what needs to be done,” he said. He added that he expects some weeks county duties will require more time than others.

Mr. Baughman said he believes he is the best candidate for the position due to his past experience as national president of the Land Improvement Contractors of America, and his current experience in governmental decision making.

“I currently help make decisions on the city’s planning board. I also help plan the future of our community as a board member of Okeechobee Main Street,” he said. “We actively strive to help local businesses succeed.

“I also believe as a business owner in the construction field I will bring a level of experience to the board that will be of value when reviewing plans of growth, drainage, and/or infrastructure,” he continued. “I have the knowledge to discuss and make suggestions as needed. I feel that this experience makes me the best choice.”

A major issue he sees in the county’s future is improving the drainage.

“Drainage has been a major problem and it is still a major problem,” he said.

“I would introduce policy that I hope other commissioners would embrace — that I believe could start fixing something that really needs to be addressed now. I would hope I could reduce red tape and help expedite more work to be done per year,” he said.

Mark Brandel

Mark Brandel (REP) is running for County Commissioner in District 1 with plans for effective growth and better quality of living in Okeechobee.

Originally from Lancaster, N.Y., Mr. Brandel has been an Okeechobee resident for 38 years. He and his wife Cindy have raised their two children, Adam and Morgan, within the community.

Mark Brandel

Mark Brandel

As an honorably discharged Army veteran, Mr. Brandel has spent his life in Okeechobee serving the community as a leader and member of multiple committees and associations. He is currently a member of the Okeechobee Contractors Association and the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Agri-Civic Center, both of which he also served as chairman. He is currently chairman for the Okeechobee Licensing Board. He is one of the founding members and past president of the Okeechobee Amateur Radio Club and has also been the past president for both the Okeechobee Jaycees and the Florida JCI Senate.

Mr. Brandel is a self-employed, state-certified general contractor and has been managing Mark W. Brandel, Inc. for almost 20 years.

With his experience as a general contractor and businessman, and his living in Okeechobee for a long time, Mr. Brandel recognizes what the county needs is a business-friendly government.

“When a new business contacts us about coming into town, there’s a couple things they look for, and certainly one of them is a business-friendly building and zoning department,” Mr. Brandel said. “Also, obviously we are going to grow. It’s not a question of ‘if we grow,’ it’s ‘we’re going to grow,’ so it’s important we have a proper plan for this growth.”

According to Mr. Brandel, he is a fiscal conservative and a strong advocate for code enforcement. He feels that it is important for potential companies looking to invest in Okeechobee to see “a community that’s proud of itself, and not one that’s just where these different areas turn into a mess.”

Mr. Brandel also plans for a stronger workforce in the community, mainly focusing on skill training for the town’s youth.

“Everyone talks about jobs, but the bottom line is if a company is looking to come here or expand here, they’re going to look at another thing and that’s a skilled labor force,” Mr. Brandel said. “And that’s why I think it’s so important that in between the high school and Indian River State College, we continue to stress vocational training, so we have folks that can fill these slots when companies come here.”

While Mr. Brandel’s main areas of focus are business growth, stronger workforce and effective code enforcement, he is open to listening to other concerns of the community.

“I’m not going to promise something I cannot deliver. The promise that I can and will make is that I will work as hard as possible to come up to speed as quickly as possible and that I commit to listen to all sides of a discussion and not make an opinion just based on one side regardless of how vocal that may be,” Mr. Brandel said. “I really feel that I’m a pretty even-handed person and I would certainly commit to listening to all sides of a discussion before I reach my decision.”

David Hazellief (REP)

David Hazellief (REP) is running for County Commissioner in District 1 with the goals to “bring fiscally sound growth, as well as improving the availability of high quality jobs by attracting industry,” as stated on his campaign Facebook page.

Born and raised in Okeechobee, Mr. Hazellief is a fourth generation Okeechobee resident. He is married to his wife Betty, and has raised his three sons, Clint, Erick and and Justin, and their respective families in this community.

David Hazellief

David Hazellief

Throughout his life, Mr. Hazellief has been actively involved within the Okeechobee community, serving as both a leader and member in various committees, boards and associations. He is a current member of the Okeechobee County Cattlemen’s Association, the Okeechobee Farm Bureau, the Okeechobee County Chamber of Commerce, the Okeechobee County Board of Realtors and the Okeechobee Area Ag Council.

Mr. Hazellief is currently the co-owner, manager and broker for Century 21 Hazellief & Prevatt Realty. In 1980, he obtained his Real Estate Sales Associate License and in 1993, he obtained his Real Estate Broker’s License.

Mr. Hazellief has been working in the real estate business for the past 30 years.

Having previously been County Commissioner from 1996 to 2004, Mr. Hazellief feels his past experience can benefit him as he’s familiar with the budgeting process. During his time as county commissioner, he also served on the Value Adjustment Board.

If elected, Mr. Hazellief plans on addressing the county’s code enforcement.

“With our amount of foreclosed homes sitting vacant, and many of them are overgrown and with the lack of code enforcement officers that we have in Okeechobee, so many of [the houses] are detrimental to the neighborhood,” Mr. Hazellief said. “We have some good code enforcement officers. I would like to see that we give them more assistance and more support in cleaning up some of the areas we have in Okeechobee.”

Not only does Hazellief feel his previous two terms as county commissioner can help with the position now, but he plans to use his experience to improve the technology of Okeechobee’s building department.

“One of my other concerns is the building department. We have thousands of open permits that have never been closed out in the county and the builders, the contractors need to be able to go online and check the progress of their permits,” Mr. Hazellief said. “You should be able to go online to check your permits, such as roof permits which is a requirement now for insurance.

Those kind of things can very easily be added to our building department to bring it into the 21st century.”

Other issues Mr. Hazellief would like to focus on are fixing the condition of the lake and creating more jobs for the town’s overall growth.

“I certainly have the experience of having been in the real estate business for years and working with businesses to come to Okeechobee,” Mr. Hazellief said. “I have that knowledge of how to work with them and what it takes to get them here,” he said.

Michael Slayton

Michael Slayton (NPA), is one of five candidates seeking the District 1 seat on the Okeechobee County Commission. Mr. Slayton is currently employed with G4S Youth Services, LLC as the facility administrator at the Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Correction Center (OJOCC).

“I have worked at OJOCC since 1999 when I started out as a correction officer,” he explained. His history in the Criminal Justice/Human Services field also includes experience as a corrections officer for the Okeechobee Correction Institute, in addition to serving as a certified auxiliary deputy for the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department.

Michael Slayton

Michael Slayton

He has worked for the same facility for the past 17 years.

“Motivated by loyalty and a commitment to provide the highest quality of services, I worked my way up to Facility Administrator. In this position I oversee eight different departments with close to one hundred employees and an operating budget in upwards of $5.5 million,” he stated.

“I have also been a part of the Okeechobee Juvenile Justice Counsel and the Circuit 19 Juvenile Justice Board serving Okeechobee, Indian River, Martin, and St. Lucie counties. I sat as chair of these councils for a two-year term.

During this time the council was able to secure grants that were used for summer programs for the kids of Okeechobee County. This experience gives me an understanding of operations similar in size and budget of our county.”

Mr. Slayton’s family moved to Okeechobee from West Palm Beach when he was 6 months old,

“My family relocated to Okeechobee to have a safe place to raise a family,” he explained. He grew up in Okeechobee and attended local schools.

“After graduating from Okeechobee High School, I resided briefly in Tampa for work,” he continued.

“I returned to Okeechobee because of a deep desire to be close with my family and establish roots as it was important to me to raise my own family here. My childhood was filled with fond memories created by the close-knit relationships with family and friends only a small town can provide, that I wanted my girls to be able to experience.”

Mr. Slayton is the proud father of two daughters, ages 7 and 11. His parents and one sister live in Okeechobee. Another sister is proudly serving our country in the United States Navy as a Chief Warrant Officer.

Mr. Slayton said his experience with managing several departments and a complex budget has helped to prepare him for the duties of county commission.

“Leadership training has taught me to be open-minded and not make a decision based on ‘It’s what we have always done,’ thus inspiring creativity,” he said.

He said it would be difficult to anticipate how many hours he would devote to the position per week if elected, but that he will do what is necessary to support the county to the best of his ability.

“My girls will always come first, but I do understand that this office is a privilege to have,” he stated. “The members of our community need support which includes keeping the flow of information going, truly listening to what they have to say, and implementation of effective communication regarding suggestions and/or concerns.”

He said a major issue facing the county is the lack of sustainable employment.

“It is a delicate balance of maintaining our small town community while at the same time inspiring growth by making efforts to see our graduating youth return to their hometown to work after college,” he explained. “I am dedicated to exploring the possibility of grant funded projects that will bring valued and sought after careers here to Okeechobee.”

Keith White

Keith White (REP) is one of five candidates seeking election to the Okeechobee County Commission District 1 seat.

Mr. White is self-employed as the owner of HAR, LLC. HAR stands for “Hope, Alive, Recharge,” and offers “restoration at a reasonable price.” The business has been in operation for nine years. HAR services include: pressure washing of construction equipment, RVs and buildings; restoration of RVs and vehicles: and, house painting.

Keith White

Keith White

Mr. White said in his business, he relies on his business skills as well as his communication skills.

“My independence and entrepreneurship allowed me to interact and deal with unusual situations,” stated Mr. White. He said his work often involves situations that require problem solving skills.

He said he decided to run for the county commission district 1 seat left vacant by the death of Ray Domer because he thinks he can bring some different and creative ideas to help the county grow.

“I think I can help out by being a part of the leadership,” he said.

He said he would also like to help open doors for different ethic groups who might need a little encouragement.

“This community has helped me. I want to give back. I truly believe in paying it forward,” he explained.

In the past, he has worked with the Substance Abuse Coalition, Harvest of Hope (which encourages migrant students to stay in school) and Hope Ministry’s food program.

Mr. White said that while no one can foresee exactly how much time county commission business will require, he is determined to give the position “however many hours it requires for mindful plans to explain and recommend ideas to achieve desired results.”

Mr. White said he is the best candidate for the seat on the county commission because he is skilled at crisis management. He said he is also knowledgeable in regional planning and is familiar with federal government principles, guidelines and policies.

“I’m best for this position to bring forth diversity in our communities,” he said.

He said he would like to promote residential growth in Okeechobee County.

“I will address this with comparison of board of commissioners’ strategy goals, to create an attractive system and grow productivity,” he said.

Mr. White, who has lived in Okeechobee for 35 years, is a graduate of Okeechobee High School. While attending OHS, he earned certificates of special recognition for completing Trade School Contracting, Drafting and Design Technology.

He also studied Business Management at Indian River State College.

Mr. White and his wife Sandra have been married for 21 years. The couple has five children, ranging in age from 13 to 20. He said he and his wife decided to raise their family in Okeechobee because they appreciate the values here.

“I really believe this is a nice place to raise children,” he said. “There is love, harmony and peace here. In big cities, everyone is in a rush and there’s no time for fellowship.”

He said during the campaign, he has cut back on other community activities in order to make sure he still devotes time to his family, while balancing the demands of his job and the election. Family time will always be a priority, said Mr. White.

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