Williams and Barrera gather with supporters, discuss priorities at recent reception


St. Johns County Commission District 4 candidate Dick Williams and St. Johns County School Board District 4 Representative Kelly Barrera, who is seeking reelection, recently met with a group of their supporters at a special reception held at Montoya & Associates.

The March 14 event kicked off with drinks and hors d'oeuvres, providing attendees the chance to mingle with the candidates. Several in attendance were the candidates’ fellow members of the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach.

Barrera delivered her remarks first. If elected, she said she would advocate for building a high school in the northern part of the county to handle the growing student population. She also said she would prioritize the continued growth of the district’s career academies.

Barrera stated that school safety has always been a priority. She noted the district’s student services department has expanded over the last four years, and if elected, she said she would focus on continued development of that department. One recent proof point of that expansion, she said, is the district’s partnership with an organization in January that will provide additional mental health resources to various schools in the county. Thanks to the school board’s half-cent sales tax revenue, she added that the district also has radios that can alert law enforcement of a problem with one push of a button.

In general, Barrera discussed the complexity of the school board and the responsibility of serving on it, noting that the district consists of over 40,000 students, 4,000 employees and a budget over $350 million.

“It’s the type of responsibility that you have to really be prepared for that leadership, that advocacy, be prepared for that purpose and be prepared to give that much and beyond,” said Barrera. “I certainly feel like that’s what I do. … I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve watched how different ideas have been implemented, and I’ve seen them prosper and not do as well.”

Williams’ address subsequently followed. The County Commission candidate discussed his background, which consists of 30 years of top management of multi-million-dollar budgets of commercial radio stations. Williams also served as the executive director of the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach for six years, as well as a two-time appointed member of the Planning & Zoning Agency (PZA). Williams mentioned that he is now retired setting himself apart from his opponents in the District 4 race and willing to take on the commissioner role as a full-time job.

The key for the next commission, according to Williams, is managing the county’s finances and expenses in the most efficient and effective way to provide its residents the services they need. He noted that his corporate background managing big budgets, combined with his nonprofit background working with small businesses, would help him address this task.

In addition, Williams said the commission must find a way to reinvest in the county. He noted the county isn’t spending enough money on repaired maintenance of roads and hasn’t built a new park in about four years. Williams said the county has 51,000 more people today than it did in 2007, while also having a budget that is $60 million less than it was 10 years ago. As a result, he stated the significance of the upcoming elections to address this issue.

“This is an incredibly important election for the school board to keep Kelly there and to put someone on the commission to replace Jay Morris, who has a business background,” said Williams, “who understands big budgets and has a sense of what we need to do and frankly have the courage to do it.”