Clearwater Beach Queries Council Candidates
By Vicki Jackson
Candidates for City of Clearwater council seats were grilled in another public forum last week. Over a hundred residents, and some public officials, attended an election forum hosted by the Clearwater Beach Association held at the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center. Board member, Jay Keyes, posed questions previously submitted by the Association, in a productive manner. Generally, each contender was given equal time to answer individual questions.
Four candidates, Wayne Carothers, Bill Jonson, Herb Quintero, and Joe Paige are vying for Seat 4. Mike Riordon is challenging incumbent Paul Gibson for Seat 5.
Wayne Carothers, 58, a Vietnam veteran, has lived in Clearwater for forty-one years and has owned Carr Air Conditioning and Heating for over half of that time. His platform focuses on small business, but he is also concerned about public safety. When asked where to reduce spending, he replied, "I would look at all the areas. When we cut police, crime goes up-the same with the fire department and response times. With budget cuts, we need to be very careful." He said, "Beach by Design is beautiful and a blessing to this area", but he'd like to see a "designated senior center." In reference to the controversial proposal to convert Coronado and Hamden to one-way streets, he said, "Residents of South Beach feel they are not being listened to. The roundabout works, and it will handle the traffic."
Bill Jonson, 65, previously served as a City of Clearwater council member from 2001 to 2007, where he "had a reputation for looking at a lot of data." He claimed endorsements by the Pinellas Organization of Realtors and the Police Union. He stressed implementing the resources we already have for issues regarding the preservation of sea grass and problems with enforcement on the privately owned beaches north of Somerset and Acacia. To control spending, he would "re-convene the Budget Task Force, look at every expense and all appropriated funds, and be deliberate." He remarked, "There has been too much emphasis on density in new development, and not enough on conformity and size." Referring to the crowd, he said, "If we had this many people at city council meetings, it would change the direction" of the city.
Herb Quintero, 41, is a native of Clearwater and owner of ASI Construction. He declared, "It's a wonderful city and I want to keep it that way." He added, "I'd like to focus on trying to increase revenue by bringing more business to the area. Some of the codes are overbroad and unenforceable. I'd like to change the negative reputation Clearwater has and make it more business-friendly. Code enforcement needs to be pro-active and not reactive." He supports a local neighborhood, versus centralized library system, and believes "the city should take a more active role in preserving our beaches, and partner with Pinellas County to make sure our beaches stay as pristine as they are." His campaign slogan is, "Citizens first!"
Joe Paige, 52, lives in North Clearwater, and has owned a remodeling business, Diversified Builders, for twenty years. He believes, "A city manager is a more responsible form of government, but the city council should direct the manager." He pledged to "balance the budget this year without cuts-to look at the departments and prioritize and right-size them depending on their role." In addition, he revealed, "The city has been squirreling away excessive reserves." A proponent of free-market and private enterprise, he would not support city-funded parking, or a light-rail system, which, he said, would also eventually have to be subsidized. "Health, safety and disturbing the peace are enforceable issues," according to Mr. Paige, thus, he "would vote to rescind the ban on short-term rentals" in the residential area of Clearwater Beach.
Mike Riordon, 50, is a fifteen-year resident of the city, and owner of City Cycle and Supply. He said, "We have had quite a few years of experts handling the problems" of Clearwater. He supports going back to Budget Task Force recommendations "Because," he said, "Those people on the task force had nothing to benefit from their recommendations. It's time for a zero-based budget," he added. Mr. Riordon would replace the Community Development Board with a Citizen's Review Board consisting of representatives from various neighborhoods. "Clearwater Beach has a density three times that of the rest of Clearwater," and he's "not in favor of adding more people and more cars." Referring to "the city putting aside $9.3 million to buy out the parking garage, he said they should "stop treating the parking fund as a sacred cow."
Paul Gibson, 61, a twelve-year resident of Clearwater, and a realtor, is finishing his first term on the city council. He declared, "There's a very clear difference between the candidates." He asserted, "The problem everyone faces is a projected $9 million deficit, and I have the experience to deal with it." Instead of a zero-based budget, he advocated continued use of "efficiency studies." He believes the city provides good value of services for the dollar, but that "they have been 'too pro-developer'", and he'd "like to see sidewalks everywhere." Regarding hotel/motel density, he's "in favor of mid-range hotels", but wants to change the codes to insure "reasonable setbacks and step backs."
That might have been the end of an intense but informative evening, were it not for a familiar voice from the crowd, urging residents who are concerned about the proposed parking fund set-aside of $9 million for the parking garage to attend the council meeting on Thursday, February 18, and urge the Council to use the $9 million to offset the expected $9 million deficit in the budget instead.
In just a few weeks voters will have the chance to choose who will speak for them for the next three years. There remain three more opportunities for citizens to listen and learn before they elect. The first one will be on February 17, at the Christ Community Presbyterian Church, located at 2310 Nursery Road, sponsored by the Morningside-meadows Homeowners Association, from 7 to 9 p.m. The next will be on February 23, from 7 to 9 p.m. in Council Chambers in Clearwater City Hall, 112 S. Osceola Avenue. This forum will be televised on C-VIEW TV and on streaming video. The last one will be hosted by the Island Estates Civic Association on March 2, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at St. Brendan Catholic Church, 245 Dory Passage.
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