Curt Smith Brings 40 Years of Entrepreneurial Experience To Brevard County Commission
By Space Coast Daily // February 14, 2016
Q&A WITH DISTRICT 4 COUNTY COMMISSIONER
30-Year Brevard Resident Dedicated To Improving Lives of Local Citizens
Curt Smith was elected to the Brevard County Commission in November 2014 with 63 percent of the vote. He ran as a fiscal conservative coming from the private sector with 40 years of small business, entrepreneurial experience. This was his first venture into the world of politics.
Smith and his wife Linda owned and operated a Maaco Autopainting franchise in Melbourne for almost 27 years before retiring in 2013. He grew up in a little town in southern New Jersey on the Delaware River called Pennsville.
“This is where I developed my deep love of nature, and for being on and in the water of the river I loved,” said Smith.
He also credits the Delaware Valley, often called the cradle of Liberty and just south of Philadelphia, with his deep love of God and country.
Smith is a graduate of the University of Miami, where he was a member of the SAE fraternity. He has always been civic minded and his many associations in Brevard County include the Board of Directors of Friends of Sally’s House and Prevent; as well as supporting Brevard Little League teams, Habitat for Humanity, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Candlelighters, Animal Services and supporting efforts to restore the Indian River Lagoon.
The Smiths have been residents of Melbourne since 1986 and have one daughter and three grandchildren.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: Commissioner Smith, congratulations on your first 14 months in office. You were elected with 63 percent of the vote. Why do you think people responded so well to your campaign message?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: When I decided to run for County Commissioner, I sat down and brainstormed ideas for how I would attempt to get such a large number of people to not only know me, but to be familiar with my political views. My thoughts were that if people know you, then they will vote for you. Ultimately I decided that the most effective way of accomplishing that was to do it the old fashioned way – by knocking on doors. So over the span of my campaign I knocked on over 7,500 doors in District 4.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: What motivates you as a commissioner?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: As an outsider, and a business person with 40 years of experience in the private sector, I tend to see things in government from a unique perspective. I see frequent opportunities to not only approach issues in a different way, but to accomplish things as a team through compromise and determination.
That is what motivates me – the opportunity to work with County staff and employees to think outside the box in an attempt to find solutions to our challenges. You would be surprised at how enthusiastically our county employees respond.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: Who are your role models and why?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: I have two main role models and those are Jesus Christ and Ronald Reagan. Jesus preached a message of love, and even though he hates sin, he still loves every one of us sinners. He preached his message and then left it up to the people to decide whether or not to accept it.
Ronald Reagan is a role model for me because he believed in compromise. He would focus on the common ground that he had with someone, rather than on the differences, and that is something that I try to always do whenever possible. If I agree with someone 50 percent of the time, then we can at least work together to accomplish 50 percent, rather than constantly fighting over the other 50 percent and accomplishing zero. Our community only wins when we, the leaders, find ways to work together.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: This has been your first experience in politics. What have you learned about the political process in Brevard, and coming from the private sector, how have you had to change?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: I can certainly tell you that it has been a learning process, but one that I am very thankful to have the opportunity to go through. As a business owner I was the captain of the ship, and by that I mean that I was the one making all of the decisions. In the County Commission arrangement, however, it’s the complete opposite – I’m just 1 of 5.
Before any decisions are made, we have to get at least 3 out of 5 votes for or against an agenda item before we can move forward. In essence, the captain on our ship of state is a 5-headed one that needs 3 people to agree on whether the ship goes to port or starboard.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: Has your first year in office been what you thought it would be?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: I really had no expectations because I had only been to two BOCC meetings before taking office. But with my background in business and life’s experiences I really did not expect any surprises that I could not handle, and there haven’t been any.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: What is a typical day/week like as a Brevard County Commissioner?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: I can tell you that there is one thing that never changes in this position: meetings. There are so many, many meetings. As a County Commissioner there are always people who want or need my thoughts, ideas and opinions.
There’s also County Staff constantly in and out of the office apprising me of issues that need my attention, as well as a never ending amount of social groups, HOA’s and clubs that want me to attend their functions. Essentially, it’s like being pulled in a million directions at once.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: What have been the most important issues that you have worked on so far, and how effectively have they been dealt with by the commission?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: As difficult as it is sometimes to weigh the importance of certain County matters over others, I would have to say that one of the most impactful issues that I’ve had the pleasure of working on is the Indian River Lagoon and the formation of the Indian River Lagoon Council last year, of which I am the Vice Chair.
The IRL Council is an independent special district of the state of Florida, and a National Estuary Program. Our mission is to build partnerships to restore and protect our lagoon by using a scientifically sound, community-based management plan. The goal of the council is to promote the overall health and well-being of the lagoon and the living organisms that depend on it to survive.
While there is still much work to be done, as the council is brand new, I am excited for the impact that it will have on our lagoon and community in the future. Another important issue for our county has been job creation. We compete, as a county, with the rest of the world to attract economic development to our area, as better employment provides a higher standard of living. Through aggressive incentive packages, the Commission was able to attract 1,494 jobs with an average wage of $58,478 in 2015 alone.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: With the complexity and size of the Brevard County budget, how effectively do you feel the tax revenue is being allocated?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: That is the $64,000 question, to coin a phrase from my youth. Quite honestly, that answer depends on who you ask. There are those that are convinced that Brevard County is awash with fraud and waste. There are also others that think that the county is run very effectively.
When I was running for this position, I had a tendency to think along the lines of the first group. However, having been on the inside for over a year now, and having watched and experienced how much county staff and employees care and how hard they work, I am now definitely in the second group. What many people don’t realize is that we are the ninth largest county in the third largest state, but we are 57th in spending out of 67 counties. In my opinion, we actually do a pretty good job of not wasting money or spending it frivolously.
While I don’t always agree with all of our spending priorities, I also realize that my opinion, and the opinions of the other Commissioners, are going to differ. We have to live with the three rule – get three people to agree, and that officially becomes the priority of our county. So that is where I work on compromise to affect change.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: If someone from outside of Brevard was thinking about moving here and starting a business on the Space Coast, what advice would you give them?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: I would tell them to go ahead and pack their bags because we live in one of the most dynamic, family oriented, business-friendly counties in the State of the Union. It’s never an easy task to start a business from scratch, but if you set up shop in the right location, it certainly helps alleviate a lot of issues that might arise.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: If you could change one thing about our system of government in Brevard, what would it be and why?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: I would change it to an Autocracy and I would be in charge and make all of the decisions! Just kidding! Things would get done a lot faster but it would not be a very representative government.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: What have you been most proud of during your first term in office?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: One of the things I am most proud of is the manner in which our County staff handles various concerns that arise. Many people hold the assumption that local government and its workers are apathetic to the needs of individuals and organizations that reside in the community, but from my experience, that is very far from true.
As a County Commissioner, I frequently rely on County Staff for accurate and up-to-date information in order to make the best decisions possible at Board Meetings. It makes me proud to see that our staff members work so hard to not only ensure that my office receives the information that we need, but to take care of County resident needs in a professional and timely manner.
Q. SPACE COAST DAILY: What are your goals for the county commission in 2016?
A. COMMISSIONER SMITH: While I cannot personally speak for the other Commissioners as to what their goals might be, I can tell you that one of my goals has always been to make sure that my constituents have access to frequent updates concerning our county and the issues that come before the Board of County Commissioners. When I was campaigning I discovered, much to my surprise, that so many people in our community don’t really know what exactly County Commissioners do.
At that point, I decided to make a conscious effort to make sure that my constituents are updated regularly, and it is my goal to continue to ensure that the constituents in my district are informed of topics that come up throughout this year.
Another goal of mine is to work closely with my fellow Commissioners and our County Manager to create and implement a strategic and sustainable roads and maintenance program for our county, as that is one of the major issues that we are currently facing.
While finding a solution might be difficult, I think we all agree that public safety and road maintenance/infrastructure are vital to our abilities to attract businesses to our area, while enhancing our economic abilities, and protecting our lifestyles.