Campaign in IRB Featured Sniping Between House and Hamilton-Wollin, Incumbent
By Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Though there were three candidates for the two seats available on the City Commission in Tuesday’s election, all of the sniping during the campaign took place between Terry Hamilton-Wollin, the incumbent, and Don House, while Phil Hanna avoided the controversy.
A second seat was wide open because Bert Valery chose not to seek re-election. Both he and Hamilton-Wollin were elected two years ago when IRB voters shook up the commission and dumped Bill Ockunzzi as mayor and put R.B. Johnson, a commission veteran, in his place.
But Ockunzzi is thought to still play a key role in city politics. He is believed by many knowledgeable observers to be the hand guiding the House campaign.
Both Hamilton-Wollin and House have tried to reach voters by distributing e-mail messages within the city.
Hamilton-Wollin has stuck strongly to the measures the City Commission has taken to cure its financial problems.
Among other things, the commission fired its treasurer, Martin Schless. A new treasurer, Sandy Sanders, who formerly worked in Dunedin, was hired.
The commission also has just hired Charles “Chuck” Coward, most recently in Treasure Island, as city manager.
Indian Rocks Beach has been without a stable city manager situation since 2003 when Tom Brobeil left.
It is from 2003 that the city can date its problems.
While Hamilton-Wollin says the commission has exercised a steady hand and the steps it has taken have benefitted the city, House has made much of the fact that sewer and trash collecting rates have gone up 60 percent.
One of the factors has been that the city had to shift money from the general fund to the enterprise funds because of shortfalls.
While Hamilton-Wollin has correctly called these actions “transfers,” House, in semantic acrobatics, has called them “loans.”
Of course, a city could only make a “loan” if a third party (bank, etc.) were involved. Moving money within the city government framework is obviously a transfer of funds.
The shortfall, it is claimed, was brought about because of the obsessive nature of the goals of Ockunzzi and two other members of the commission at the time – Jim Palamara, who was also turned out two years ago, and Ed Piniero – to cut, cut, cut taxes.
Bob DiNicola, mayor at the time, warned of the danger and pitfalls of that trio’s obsession. What DiNicola forecast came true.
Because of the city’s dire financial situation in the past couple of years, a consultant was brought in whose recommendations have improved the situation.
Jose Coppen, a member of the commission until a year ago when he chose not to run, sounded the clarion call again and again over what he called the poor job being done by the treasurer.
Hamilton-Wollin has pointed out that because there was a shortfall in the funds, trash could not have been allowed to pile up.
“Would it have been better to not be able to flush the toilet, or have the garbage pile up because we have no funds to pick it up? Or is it more prudent to transfer funds from the general fund to keep those services operating and repay the money when the receipts come in?” Hamilton-Wollin said.
She says that “The need to transfer funds at all arose from the irresponsible previous commissions who refused to continue the 6 per cent a year increases approved way back in 2001.”
Ockunzzi and company refused to follow that policy and a shortfall in the enterprise funds resulted. The idea is that enterprise funds are supposed to pay for themselves, but if increases do not keep pace with costs, the money has to come from somewhere.
Because no increases were allowed the money had to be transferred from the general fund. The plan is to return that money.
That, simply, is what the controversy is all about. A very simple problem complicated by a candidate hungry for office who, many think, has made wild claims.
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