When you ask Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant about the city of Palmetto, her voice comes alive with enthusiasm for her hometown. “Palmetto is a great place to be…and especially to be mayor,” she gushes. “We just want to keep making the city the best place to make your home, to open a business, to build your life. That’s our ultimate goal.”
Born and raised in Palmetto, Bryant attended Palmetto Elementary and graduated from Palmetto High School. She went on to attend Manatee Community College (which is now State College of Florida) and ultimately graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland, where she studied economics and accounting.
After graduation, Bryant started thinking about where she wanted to settle down. “I had a job offer in St. Petersburg, but I just couldn’t do it,” she recalls. “I love my community and my family is all here. I’m blessed with a wonderful, large family, and it’s hard to move away from that. I always get drawn back to Palmetto.”
Bryant worked for the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office for 15 years and served as a Palmetto City Council representative from 1993 to 2004. “I have always been involved in some type of service or giving back to the community,” she says. “Whether it was PTO, PTA, Little League, soccer for my kids, planning and zoning with the county, I was always involved.” When she stepped down from City Council in 2004, she took a job as Chief Financial Officer for Manatee School for the Arts.
A few years later, it was time for the City of Palmetto to elect a new mayor. “Several of my friends kept asking me to run,” Bryant remembers, but she was enjoying her position with Manatee School for the Arts. “I kept thinking about it and praying about it.”
One morning, Bryant stopped by the 7-Eleven to buy a Diet Coke. “I had just dashed the idea, I wasn’t going to run for mayor,” she says. At least, that is, until she ran into a friend of hers at the convenience store. “He’s an air conditioning contractor and always on the phone, but he’d always wave hello to me,” she recalls. “That day, he was on the phone as usual, but he said, ‘I gotta go,’ and slammed his flip phone shut. He turned to me and said, ‘Shirley, I implore you to run for mayor.’ I was flabbergasted. By the time I got to my car, I was thinking, ‘Okay, I give up. I must be supposed to run for mayor. That’s why all these people keep telling me to do it.”
Soon after, she started campaigning, and the rest is history. In 2008, Bryant was elected as Mayor of Palmetto, and she’s currently in her third term.
“Now whenever I run into that particular friend, I remind him, ‘If you don’t like how the city’s going, it’s your own fault.’ His right to complain has been nullified!” she says with a laugh.
The Latest & Greatest Around Town
With Mayor Bryant at its helm, Palmetto is headed in the right direction. In recent years, the city has undergone a major transformation with more improvements in the works.
Since she’s been in office, Mayor Bryant and her staff have accomplished countless projects, including the redevelopment of Sutton Park (Veterans Park), the opening of a new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, the revitalization of the Riverside Park areas with expanded boat ramps and an enhanced gateway at 8th Avenue and Riverside Drive.
“Presently we’re strategizing for a plan for funding designated by the Florida Department of Transportation for a multi-modal corridor that will go from Riverside Drive all the way to 17th Street on 10th Avenue,” Mayor Bryant explains, adding the street will incorporate a path for pedestrians and transit users as well as landscaping and safety lighting. “In Palmetto, we try to always go a step above and we’ve picked a certain historical lighting we use in the city,” she explains. “We’ve incorporated that at Riverside Drive and that’ll be something we step up a little bit for 10th Avenue.”
Bryant says the city also tries to incorporate cameras for public security whenever possible. “We’ve utilized that in a lot of different areas, and it’s proven to be very helpful,” she says. “There have been different situations across the country where cameras were important in eliminating and solving crimes.”
The city is also in negotiations for the construction of a 250-room concierge hotel by the Bradenton Area Civic Center. “We’re hopeful that will come to fruition,” she says. “If everything comes together, we’re hoping we can break ground later this year.”
Palmetto is also working on cleaning up some pockets of brownfield areas. For instance, the city received a $200,000 grant from the EPA to clean up one parcel on the Manatee River. “You can’t redevelop a property if it’s got environmental issues, so we’re using whatever tools we have to clean up whatever we can in the city of Palmetto,” Bryant explains.
The city has also made major headway with its Aquifer Recovery System at the wastewater treatment plant. “We’re hopeful that we get all the permits and we can draw our first water out of it by the end of the year,” Mayor Bryant remarks. “We will continue to work on that and try to improve and increase our availability of reuse city wide.”
Mayor Bryant is also excited to report the city’s 4th of July celebration plans are already underway. This year, the popular event will showcase The Oak Ridge Boys, long-standing country quartet most famous for their hit song, “Elvira.”
The Manatee County Veterans Council will also host its annual Veterans Parade on November 11, 2017. The parade begins at the county fairgrounds and ends at Sutton Park in Palmetto.
“We’re hopefully going to continue to do some other projects down at Riverfront,” Mayor Bryant adds. “We’re exploring a lot of different things right now.”
Outside of work, Mayor Bryant enjoys attending concerts and plays and spending time with her family. She has two sons—Patrick, a local attorney and Chris, an environmental consultant—and a 4-year-old granddaughter named Emma. “I like to see my granddaughter every chance I get,” she says with a smile.
When she’s not in City Hall, Mayor Bryant also spends a lot of her time making appearances at local events. “I attend a lot of different events where we’ve had invitations for the mayor’s position to appear,” she says. “I think that’s important. If a group feels their event is significant enough that they want to have the mayor’s office represented there, I try to make every effort to honor that.”
As a Palmetto native who grew up in agriculture, Bryant considers herself a grassroots person. “My primary mission is to serve the community,” she says. “I feel you’re not elected to a position to be a boss to the people—you really have to serve the community. I try to treat people the way I like to be treated. That’s my philosophy. When people come in to talk with us, I treat them with respect, and I hope they will treat us with respect. It’s always a two-way street.”
Small but Mighty
Spanning only seven square miles with a population of just over 14,000 residents, Palmetto is certainly not a big city. However, this charming Old Florida town has seen dramatic growth and a major rejuvenation in recent years. Because she’s lived there for the majority of her life, Mayor Bryant has had the privilege of watching her hometown transform before her very eyes.
“It helps me knowing the history of the city and how it’s evolved,” she says. “I’m so blessed, I have a wonderful team that works with me, and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of different things. Based on the feedback I get from a lot of members in the community, they feel like we’re headed in the right direction. Occasionally we’ll have speed bumps, but we try to use the community input to change things and take it in a positive direction.”
Above all else, Mayor Bryant believes Palmetto is truly unique because individuals, businesses and organizations are constantly reaching out to her, looking for ways to give back to their community. “They offer to do projects, like helping to keep the parks clean and graffiti-free for the little kids. Where else do you find that? We’re small, but we think we’re mighty.”