CLEARWATER — The race for councilmember seat 4 in the March 11 municipal election has turned into a three-way contest.
Incumbent Councilman Bill Jonson is seeking re-election. His challengers are David Allbritton, CEO of David Allbritton Building Contractor, Inc., who has served on a number of city boards during the past 14 years; and Konrad McCree, Jr., a business analyst for Wellcare Health Plans, Inc., and senior pastor at Simply Kingdom Ministries, a nondenominational church.
All candidates were invited to complete a baseline questionnaire that provides general background information about themselves, their basic views and their opinion of why they’re the best choice for the council seat.
Bill Jonson, 69, moved to Clearwater in 1984 and resides in the Countryside Northridge subdivision. He was raised in Elm Grove, WI. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Drake University in 1966 and did graduate studies in information management at the University of Minnesota from 1970-71. He was a longtime employee of Honeywell International, a Fortune 100 company that produces a variety of commercial and consumer products, engineering services and aerospace systems. He has experience as a certified public accountant, internal auditor and project manager. His current occupation is city council member. He’s married with five children and four grandchildren. A fifth grandchild is expected at the end of this month.
Describe your prior experience.
Since 2010, I have served as council member — seat 4. From 2001 to 2007, I served as Clearwater council member — seat 5. My first involvement with the city was in 1988 when I formed the group Citizens for a Better Clearwater to use the city charter initiative process to remove off-premise billboard signs from Gulf-to-Bay (Boulevard). That effort included collecting over 6,000 petition signatures and resulted in the city adopting that code change. Additionally, I chaired the Clearwater Environmental Advisory Board, and was a member of the Clearwater Beach Roundabout Advisory Committee and the Code Enforcement Review Committee.
What do you love about Clearwater?
Almost everything — examples: Countryside, Clearwater Beach, the Courtney Campbell Scenic Highway, Clearwater library system, Clearwater parks/recreation facilities and trail system, Tampa Bay Estuary, Clearwater Harbor. There are great job opportunities, easy access to excellent stores and restaurants, great variety of cultural opportunities, fascinating businesses, good education system, active volunteers, GREAT neighborhoods, and proximity to Tampa International Airport and regional job centers.
What do you dislike about Clearwater?
• When comparing Clearwater to other Pinellas cities, Clearwater is underutilizing the historic downtown.
• Clearwater, as a built-out city, has many properties that are in need of redevelopment or revitalization.
• Our transportation/transit system is inadequate for a region our size.
• Areas of poverty and regional homelessness.
Why are you the better candidate?
• I have 10 years of direct experience on the Clearwater City Council during times of boom and recession.
• I am retired from Honeywell and therefore can commit to being a full-time council member.
• I have been representing Clearwater in regional and statewide responsibilities of leadership increasing the success of Clearwater’s vision — Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA), Tampa Bay Estuary, Suncoast League of Cities. I currently serve as vice chair of PSTA, president of the Suncoast League of Cities, and chair of the Courtney Campbell Scenic Highway Citizens Advisory Committee.
• I am diligent, prepared and have sought municipal educational opportunities through the Florida League of Cities and the Certified Public Pension Trustee program.
• I have leadership experience in both neighborhood homeowners’ associations and as president of the Clearwater Neighborhood Coalition.
• I was trained as an accountant, certified public accountant, internal auditor and project manager.
What do you consider the most pressing issue in Clearwater?
The greatest uncertainty is the unknown impact of Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance (Reform) Act. The threats are: Some Clearwater residents may not be able to afford to keep their homes; the inability for homeowners to sell their property for its purchase price; and the overall loss of city assessed property valuation.
Summarize your top three priorities and how you can affect change in those areas.
• Sustaining the city infrastructure — encouraging measurement, continuous improvement and benchmarking of municipal services;
• Encouraging job growth and attracting new jobs to the area —implementing the U.S. 19 redevelopment plan and expanding the information technology industry cluster in downtown;
• Keeping neighborhoods safe and attractive — supporting innovative law enforcement, ensuring code enforcement is consistent and responsive.
Do you think the city spends too much? If so, why?
The purpose of a general reserve is to enable continuation of basic services during downturns. Clearwater’s general fund budget was appropriately adjusted downward from $122 million in fiscal year 2008 to $109 million in fiscal year 2012.
The issue isn’t “spending too much” but maintaining the balance between needed quality municipal services and the taxation required to pay for that service. This balance is needed not only in property taxes but also charges that appear on our utility bills. In addition to this balance is the need to continually improve city processes so that service is improved with reduced need for additional revenue. There is no question that many individuals living in the City of Clearwater struggle to pay their bills every month. All decisions must consider financial sustainability of both the city and its citizens.
Is there anything else you’d like to address?
One thing that I have learned from my 10 years on the council is the importance of working together with other cities and counties to jointly accomplish regional goals that benefit all of us. It is the key to attracting investment and resources to the region and getting things done faster. An example of this success is the new Courtney Campbell trail, a collaboration of local, regional and state governmental agencies, public- and private-sector partners.