Viewing The Clearwater City Election?
By Anne McKay Garris
For the citizens of Clearwater, it's like coming from a parched desert into a green, moist oasis, this opportunity to, once again, have a choice of who we elect for City Council. For too long, most of our leaders have been elected by default because they have run unopposed. Some of them have taken this as an invitation to make decisions without listening to the people. Almost since the day it was adopted, for instance, the development code has been a disaster, mostly because of the infamous "infill development" which basically allows a builder to build anything he can get approved by the City's Planning Staff.
Now, with a real election going on, the candidates are all called upon to say whether or not they will work to correct this massive error before all of Clearwater becomes a series of tall building canyons, similar to parts of Clearwater Beach where some of the buildings are built right on the lot line.
I will not admit to missing the days when a large contingent from Clearwater Beach attended the candidates forums, sat near the front and treated their least favorite candidates to partially stifled snorts and a rolling of the eyes at their non-answers and, sometimes, down right lies. On the other hand, a little bit of combativeness adds interest, and information to the process, such as when newcomer Mike Riordon popped off a fast rebuttal to candidate, Paul Gibson. Vice Mayor Gibson stated that more redevelopment of under-used properties would improve the tax base.
"Not so," responded Mr. Riordon, "More population always means a higher tax rate. St. Petersburg's tax rate is the highest in the county and the small island communities have smaller rates."
Possibly, the major question in most minds is, "What can we do about the $9 million deficit in the operating budget?" The operating budget is paid for out of the General Fund, which has been too much the money tree for recent expenditures, like the Bayfront Boat Slips and landscaping the Downtown Streetscape as well as subsidizing the Parking Fund. This is a real concern for many citizens as the General Fund pays for police, fire protection, libraries and recreation centers and they've already cut those almost to the bone.
The question of the budget deficit quickly divided the candidates into two groups. Three candidates spoke, with great sadness, about the awful task of finding ways to cut back on spending. But three others talked about finding the money to avoid more cuts and they were the ones I listened to with fascination.
Bill Jonson spoke of "looking at the special funds and the money set aside in them to find surplus funds that could be used to cover the budget deficit."
Mike Riordon talked about money wasted on appealing lawsuits out of stubbornness, as in the disciplining of two firemen. He also suggested there are surpluses in some City funds that could be used to take care of the budget deficit.
But candidate Joe Paige dropped the bombshell. He had checked with the City's finance department. "There are excess reserves in several funds," he said. "City Council policy is to have a reserve that is equal to 3 months expense. The Recycling Fund," he pointed out, "has an expense of $2.9 million, so the reserve should be $724,000, but the actual reserve is $4.1 million." According to Mr. Paige, the Solid Waste Fund should have $4.67 million reserves, but actually has $14.4 million, and the Gas Fund should have $10.7 million, but actually has $19.7 million.
"They say they're saving it for a rainy day," remarked Mr. Paige. "But folks - it's raining," he added.
My hat's off to the three small businessmen who are running partly because they feel the City is unfair to small businesses. Anyone who has watched the City deliberately cut off the long used back-out parking at the small motels on Clearwater Beach know there's little official concern for small businesses. I would like for one, or all of these candidates, to give more detail on how the City has misused small businesses and what they would do to cure it.
All of these candidates; however, have made the effort to expand their understanding of the governing process to address other issues. They have researched major issues, such as city government spending, the development code and how well the current Council is listening to the citizens.
So far there have been 4 forums for our City Council candidates. Attendances at all of them have averaged around 100 people. With two more Forums to go, that adds up to about 600 people. Where do the rest get their answers about who would make the best City Council members? The people with the most campaign money do the most and best mail-outs and signs. Some of the news media make recommendations. Some people talk to people who have attended forums and get their opinion.
This election; however, you can get your information about candidates from another source. All of the candidates have web pages. To be a responsible voter, you can take the time to check out their views and platforms on the internet.
We were unable to find a web site for Wayne Carothers, but you can e-mail him at email@example.com. Bill Jonson's web page is www.billjonson.org. Joe Paige's website is www.joepaige.com. Herb Quintero's website is www.herbforclearwater.com. Paul Gibson's website is www.electpaulgibson.com. And Mike Riodon's website is www.voteformikeriordon.com.
The next candidates' forum will be on February 23, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, sponsored by the City of Clearwater, and televised on CVIEW.TV. The next will be on March 2, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at St. Brendon Catholic Church on Island Estates. The Island Estates Civic Association will sponsor this forum. The election will be held on March 9.
(The views expressed are those of the writer, not the Clearwater Gazette.)
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