At Last, A Real Election
By Anne McKay Garris
Excuse me while I wax eloquent, or at least enthusiastic! Democracy was back in Clearwater on Monday night, with six candidates vying for two City Council seats. They ranged from former City Commissioner Bill Jonson, who distributed well-designed campaign literature, and had lawn signs ready to distribute; to one candidate who was so nervous in the beginning that he could hardly express why he was there. However, all soon settled into clear and intelligent answers to the very good questions presented by the Clearwater Neighborhood Coalition.
When asked what they considered the biggest challenge to Clearwater City Government, Joe Paige answered, "Over regulation of small business". In odder to illustrate his point, he held up a small booklet which, he pointed out, "is the United States Constitution. And this", he added, holding up a very large notebook "are the rules on what you what you must do to remodel your bathroom."
Herb Quintero explained his view that the city's support of business would bring new life, and new employment to Clearwater. He suggested that changing the code could do this.
"All our problems are economic," said Paul Gibson. He suggested the city could increase its tax revenue by getting under used properties redeveloped, indicating that the tax revenues in the beach area had been expanded by redevelopment, and there were areas of the city where the same expansion would be possible.
Mike Riordan, the only candidate challenging Councilman Paul Gibson for his seat, gave water scarcity as the biggest challenge facing the city. "And drilling in Countryside is not the solution" he added, suggesting desalinization as a possible solution.
Wayne Carothers described government intrusion as the major challenge and suggested this could be addressed by providing incentives to small businesses to grow and prosper.
Bill Jonson views the major challenge as dealing with an economy built on growth. 'We have concentrated too much on tourism", he said. "We need to find alternative types of industry to broaden our economy".
When asked about the future of the Harbor View Center, Paul Gibson said he would entertain a proposal for a public/private partnership (between government and a private developer), and if that wasn't possible he would be in favor of knocking it down, "and plant grass".
"Most people have forgotten that the Harbor View was built to be a city center", pointed out Mike Riordon. He indicated that the site could be a grassy knoll with a nice view for the use of the people of Clearwater. "I would not be in favor of a public/private development there," he said. "Any development would have to go to referendum and would have to be very specific".
Wayne Carothers spoke for retail use of the site.
Joe Paige recommended that the city should look for entrepreneurs to tell the city what should be on the site that would improve the city's tax base. "And City Hall is on one of the most valuable pieces of land in the city, it should be moved", he added. "Sell it to a private developer," was Herb Quintero's brief terse suggestion.
"Most downtowns capitalize on their history in reviving their downtowns," said Bill Jonson. "The Harbor View tended to block the activities at Coachman Park from spilling over into Downtown".
Mike Riordon offered some creative solutions to the question of The Green City Design. He recommends that Penny For Pinellas tax, instead of being spent on more and more buildings that need city funds to staff and operate, should go for the development of facilities to harness renewable sources, like solar and wind power. "This could result in zero utility bills for the city, especially if they have a surplus to sell", he said.
Joe Paige expressed skepticism about the Green City Design program. "It was written by six college kids", he said, "and leads to wasted, bloated government spending". Herb Quintero complimented the job the Clearwater Gas Department is doing, not only encouraging the use of the City's natural gas, but also making sales to other cities. Paul Gibson said, "We're already green". Wayne Carothers responded, "We're not green anymore. The yellow buckets for recycling is about as far as the City should get involved in "green". Bill Jonson said that regional public transportation would give us more walk able, (and therefore "greener"), cities.
"If you are elected to City Council, what would you work first to change", asked the moderator. "Cut Council members salaries by 10%", answered Joe Paige. "Change the regulations on small businesses", responded Herb Quintero, "This would lessen the burden on the tax payers". "Provide more incentives for small businesses to do their jobs", added Wayne Carothers. "I would work for more accountability from the staff in areas such as getting projects done on time", offered Mike Riordon. "Continue the efficiency studies", said Paul Gibson, "using someone outside the City for more objectivity". "I would bring back the Citizens Budget Task Force," said Bill Jonson, "and continue the improvement process for all employees".
Four of these citizens are running for seat 4. Wayne Carothers, from Morningside neighborhood, has owned Carr Air Conditioning and Heating for 22 years. Bill Jonson, from Countryside, is retired from Honeywell and served on the City Commission from 2001 to 2007. Joe Paige is from North Clearwater. He owns Diversified Builders, a remodeling business. Herb Quintero lives on Island Estates. He is the owner of OWI Construction and has worked in the construction industry for 23 years. Paul Gibson, a realtor who lives on Clearwater Beach, is running for re-election to Seat 5. Mike Riordon, a resident of the Country Club Addition neighborhood who owns a small business in Clearwater, challenges him.
After years of non-elections when most of the candidates ran unopposed, this year your choices are excellent and varied. The next candidates' forum is on Wednesday, February 10, at the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., sponsored by the Clearwater Beach Association.
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