By Bruce Rector as told to Kelly Kelly
Two experiences in my life have really shaped my leadership style and how I will lead as a member of the Clearwater City Council. First, when I was 22 years old and working for the Indianapolis Colts, my mom got sick with ovarian cancer. At that time, I was a physical education major and working toward a career as an athletic trainer. I’d always dreamed of going to law school, but none of my family members had ever gotten a professional education degree beyond college and didn’t have a lot of money. Instead of focusing on all of that though, she told me to reassess and not sell myself short. Right before she passed away, in my last conversation with her, I talked to her about my plans for the future and told her I didn’t think it was possible to go to law school. Her last words to me were, “You might as well try.” She passed away about two weeks later.
I took the LSAT and did really well and got into law school. I still didn’t feel like I fit in. Other students came from wealthier families or a long line of family lawyers. But I remembered my mother’s words, applied myself to all kinds of positions and opportunities and wasn’t ever worried about being told “no.” I’ve had a lot of success in life and gotten to do far more in life than I had ever dreamed of just by not putting a ceiling on what is possible and simply trying – even when I might not believe my chances are very strong.
I later read a book called The Big Leap. It essentially says that most people put a cap on the happiness in their life and focus too much on reasons that keep them from being as happy as they can possibly be. Essentially that book reinforces what I learned from my mom that to achieve the most in work and in life, never sell yourself short. What appears to be impossible really is possible. Possibilities are probably broader than you think they are. I’m always surprised at how much more enriched my life can be if I simply try.
The second experience was traveling the world and listening to peoples’ experiences in countries whose ways of life are drastically different from mine. Over time, I started to see less and less in terms of age, race and gender and differences and more of what we all have in common. I developed impressions that people are people, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. And I learned that the best ideas can come, and often do, from the places and people you might least expect. Since then I’ve always had a passion for trying to get people to find common ground and work together.
In several of the council candidate forums, I’ve talked about leading the Board of Directors of Junior Chamber International with 25 members from 21 countries. It taught me a lot about how to work together with a widely diverse group to achieve common goals. I’ve worked in conflict resolution all around the world, even in countries and places that have experienced centuries of disagreements and strife.
That experience also taught me the importance of not being afraid to have difficult conversations and to handle them in a way that brings people together instead of pushing them further apart. We may not always agree, but having healthy conversations are important – understanding and respecting different perspectives and opinions in every community.
In Clearwater, these two experiences are really important. Clearwater often sells itself short and we limit ourselves by listening too much to the negative messages from outside our community and what others say we can and cannot do. As a city council member, I’ll use my experience to pull people together and make Clearwater better. I’ll push for more visionary thinking and inspire our citizens and leaders to think more about what is possible and less about what others perceive as impossible. I’ll work to pull the lid off what we think we can do and will remember my mom’s words: “You might as well try.”
Secondly, as a council member I’ll use my experience to do what Clearwater needs SO much – to bring the community together. Walking neighborhoods and talking to people has raised my awareness for the opportunity to pull together as a community. People are disconnected here. The residents in our neighborhoods often don’t understand the way of life and the problems and challenges of living in other parts of the community. We need better messaging and community-wide dialogue so that all residents respect the different needs of the neighborhoods and ways we can all work together to have a great city.
Projects like Imagine Clearwater, where we are proposing to spend significant tax dollars, are much more difficult for the community to support when they increasingly don’t see our downtown as part of their community. Some are concerned about the growing presence of Scientology but also say that there aren’t enough activities downtown to attract them there anyway. There’s a clear disconnect between Scientologists and many in our community.
Also, a lot of residents don’t see the money being spent on Imagine Clearwater as having any value to them. They see the proposed activities there to be too focused on music. While music events have been an important part of our [city’s] history in Coachman Park, many Clearwater citizens I’ve talked with don’t go to concerts at all, anywhere in the region. So when we’re trying to communicate the value to the community of the proposed park improvements, they don’t ever see themselves using it, which makes it much harder for the project to ultimately be more successful. The clear message I have heard from residents and voters is to have the council prove that there will be more and wider community benefit from the project before investing so much taxpayers’ money in it.
Sports Facilities Management, the company I work for, develops and manages sports and recreation facilities throughout the United States. We have extensive experience in helping design and operate swimming pools, courts and playing fields. Our company works with as many as 100 projects in any given year. The most successful communities with these similar projects have eventually developed facilities that make sense for THEIR community and that are not merely duplicating a facility that looks nice and fits in well in ANOTHER community. We do careful analysis of forecasted uses and build the facility and the programming around the market demand for use. Just because people in a city like Oklahoma City use a facility for certain reasons, doesn’t mean our community and market will use it for those reasons. We need to think about Imagine Clearwater and the future uses of Coachman Park in a more strategic way.
Voters often ask me if I’m a Scientologist. I tell them that I am not and that I’m a member of Calvary Church. I also get asked a lot, “What are you going to do about Scientology?” I ask them back, “What do you think the city should do about Scientology?” Most people acknowledge that Scientology will likely continue to have a significant presence in Clearwater in the near future and there are significant concerns about their control and influence over city government. I also often ask them, “Do you think we should use taxpayer money to address Scientology?” and I’ve not heard any voters say that we should.
Our experience at Sports Facilities Management is that people generally won’t use a passive park in large numbers. There needs to be a wide variety of programs and activities to draw them there. We can have exercise events, such as yoga, running races, etc. to inspire public use. But nice facilities do not by themselves draw people to use them. They have to be actively programmed. We need to do gather statistics and information from residents in our market as to expected uses. What will people actually use the park for once it is built? We want to make sure of that before we spend money on facilities that people won’t use and have no interest in using.
And we need to be careful that we accurately forecast and budget for the operating costs once the park is improved. With a splashpad, many people think you can build it and that’s it. It needs to be monitored very much like a swimming pool, not as much as a pool, and has operational expenses that can sometimes be surprising.
Regarding homelessness, I’ve seen projects in the Chicago area where the communities get together and help people who can’t afford to keep their properties up. We need affordable housing because we need to find opportunities to repurpose land. We need to revise our city’s overall comprehensive plan for both the communities and residents and create more space. Create affordable housing for families that want to work in Clearwater. It provides housing closer to where people work.
Homelessness impacts our police and fire departments on a daily basis. We need to find a way to get our police and fire personnel out of social services. All the time they spend attending to the homeless or going to the same home on a regular basis for the same problems is not productive or a wise use of our resources. Many of the issues they confront are better addressed by social services and mental health professionals. It makes them less efficient for their primary focus of public safety and just puts a band-aid on more serious problems.
We have to be smarter about how we protect our local environment. The most important part is the quality of our water and air. We have to make sure that our tax money and resources are focused on that. The money that will be spent on protecting our environment – if it yields results and makes the air and water better, I’m absolutely for it. But we need to make sure that the money that is spent can be environmentally effective and not unnecessarily costly. Addressing sea level rise in an economical way is a significant challenge for all coastal communities if Florida and we need to be wise in our planning and budgeting to contemplate it.
Protecting our environment can’t be just the government’s job. To be effective, we need a collaborative effort from residents, businesses and local government. It’s a community job – the people in their homes and people who go to the beach use our green spaces and water.
I have enjoyed visiting with voters at their homes. Those conversations have been invaluable to me in understanding our community and its needs. Talking with many people in their neighborhoods has totally changed my perspective on city council leadership.
There’s a real feeling in our community that elected officials don’t understand what it’s like to live in their neighborhood. That has been consistent feedback across the city. They don’t know what it’s like to drive on their roads, walk on their sidewalks, live in their homes. In general, we need to do a better job of looking for new innovative ways to do things. We need standards and need to enforce those standards, but be willing to work with residents and businesses to find creative solutions.
I’m very proud of my 19-year-old son, Trevor, who is in his first year of college at the University of Kentucky. I’ve heard other candidates talk about wanting their children to come back to Clearwater. I also want my son to come back to Clearwater eventually. This is the first time I’ve run for office largely because of him and not wanting to take time away from his and supporting his activities. I wanted to be an active dad, invested my time in his life in a way that campaigning and running for public office would not have been possible.
I have a good personal relationship with many local city, county and state officials. If elected I would utilize those contacts and relationships to get things done for the citizens of Clearwater.