Dunedin's voters key in on finances, Jays, gifts
By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer
DUNEDIN -- Take a stroll around town and it will become clear it's election season.
Brightly colored campaign fliers and signs stamped with the names and slogans of the four City Commission candidates have cropped up over the past two weeks. And with the handshaking and hoopla leading up to the Feb. 12 election, some key issues are taking shape.
Voters have questioned incumbent commissioners Cecil Englebert and Deborah Kynes and challengers Bob Hackworth and Tom Osborne about the city's financial status, gift policy, relationship with the Toronto Blue Jays and redevelopment strategy.
The four candidates have discussed those issues before a Dunedin Council of Organizations meeting Friday and at a candidates forum sponsored by the Dunedin Chamber of commerce Tuesday night.
Englebert, a retired Clearwater businessman, is seeking his seventh term on the Dunedin City Commission, discussed the accomplishments of the current commission -- pointing to his role in contract renegotiations with the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, which makes Dunedin its home for spring training.
"This commission has accomplished in the past three years more than has been done in the past 10," he said. "We're trying to spend your money where you want it to be spent and where it needs to be spent."
But his position on redevelopment was more conservative.
"We have to hold the line on spending," said Englebert, 75. "We have to protect what we have -- develop, but spend (only) what we need to spend."
Among the necessary items to be completed, Englebert said, is the installation of a sewage and reclaimed water system in the Spanish Trails subdivision.
In December, residents there were surprised when city staffers announced they were considering asking property owners to pay an additional impact fee of $1,492 for the work, on top of the $5,500 assessment they and the city had agreed on.
Each candidate, meanwhile, agreed the work at Spanish Trails should be done for the $5,500 cost to residents, with no added impact fees.
Hackworth, 46, a newcomer to Dunedin politics, said he "hopes to bring a new style of trustworthiness and leadership" to the commission.
Hackworth said his frustration with commission decisions, particularly the ones concerning the Blue Jays, prompted him to run in this year's commission race. The top two vote-getters among the four candidates will be elected.
Hackworth, for example, has challenged the numbers used in projecting the city's revenue from its new contract with the baseball team. The contract based what the city would bring in from games on a 15-year average annual attendance of 3,800.
He thinks that's too generous.
"We are dealing with an economic situation that is different from what is projected," Hackworth said. "It's going to be hard to fill that stadium with Dunedin residents because there is a lot of ill will about (the deal.)"
On the matter of commissioners accepting gifts, most candidates oppose the acceptance of gifts or gratuities from those with whom the city does business.
Dunedin officials were recently scrutinized for accepting thousands of dollars in baseball tickets, meals and travel lodging from the city of Toronto and the Blue Jays, prompting them to change the city's policy.
Englebert was alone in defending the practice, saying he never thought it was a big deal.
"I never once realized that taking a baseball ticket would be wrong," he said, adding that residents expect to see him and other public officials at such events. "If I would have known there were objections to it, I wouldn't have done it."
No one, perhaps, is more vocal about the matter than Osborne, a former commissioner seeking to get back on the commission.
Osborne, 78, who regularly boasts about spending only $500 of a $3,000 annual travel allowance during his tenure on commission, is pushing to prioritize the city's spending.
"There has got to be some balance here with set priorities," he said. "And if you're going to have priorities, you've got to stick with them."
After five years on the commission, Osborne was defeated for re-election in 1999. A fixture at commission meetings, the retired lawyer has been critical of how the current commission has handled the budget.
Kynes, who is seeking her second term, is calling for quarterly budget reviews to replace the current twice-a-year system that she said can lead to budget surprises.
The 51-year-old lawyer has spent the past 10 years involved with a number of community organizations and has devoted much time to environmental issues like the revitalization of Curlew Creek.
In addition to budget reviews, Kynes said new development, like the one proposed for the ailing Stirling Recreation Center, would also be a priority should she be re-elected.
"We can always do better," she said. "Because the one thing that is true to life is change, and if we can do that, we will continue to grow."
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