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Harmony on issues cools candidate forum's fire

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

SEMINOLE -- The second forum among the five candidates for three open City Council seats wasn't a heated debate.

In fact, it wasn't much of a debate at all, since they mostly agreed with each other on the few issues facing the city.

Three council members will be picked by voters in Tuesday's election.

The contenders gathered Wednesday in the auditorium at Seminole Garden Apartments. The hourlong event, which drew 35 people, was hosted by the Seminole Gardens Community Club. Member Leo Mutchler, who lost his bid last year for a Seminole council seat, moderated the forum.

The candidates -- two incumbents and three newcomers -- said they would focus on annexation and economic development if elected to the seven-member board.

All said they are in favor of the city's pro annexation policy and agreed about the need to proceed wisely so the city is able to provide services to the new neighborhoods.

The candidates also spoke about the need to fill empty storefronts in Seminole, mainly the former Kash n' Karry store on Park Boulevard that has been vacant for a decade.

John Counts, a 35-year-old bank manager who is running for his first political office, said it is important the city tries to redevelop empty properties, but it also must focus on retaining and growing small businesses in Seminole.

Mutchler asked the candidates how they would handle the Pinellas County Commission's efforts to limit annexation.

Most agreed the city and county need to have a good relationship, but the two governments won't always see eye to eye on issues, such as annexation.

"It's a turf war," said Janet Long, 57, a consultant who is running for her first political office. "County government has a vested interest in not allowing cities to annex."

Carol Hajek, a real estate broker who is seeking re-election, agreed with Long. "It will be a problem for the county if we take more (areas) out," she said.

Ed Dobyns, 85, said his skills he learned as a foreign service officer would be beneficial to the city. "I'm a good negotiator," said Dobyns, a retiree who is running in his first political race.

Mutchler also asked the candidates their views on traffic enforcement in the city. They all agreed more needed to be done to curtail the number of speeders and red light runners.

Incumbent Bob Matthews, 57, said the city hired a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy last year to specifically enforce traffic rules. He said he doesn't think installing speed humps, a technique used by other municipalities and the county, solves the problem.

"Trading speed bumps for enforcement," said Matthews, an instrument technician for Florida Power. "That's just not going to work."

In closing, the candidates explained why they wanted to participate in shaping Seminole's future.

Hajek said she wanted to continue working on projects, such as a joint-use library (between the city and St. Petersburg College), that began during her tenure. "I'm proud to be a part of the team that has brought Seminole to where it is today," she said.

Counts said he wants to continue beautification efforts in Seminole, especially in newly annexed areas. He said all five candidates would do a good job and he encouraged voters to go to the polls on Tuesday.

Long cited her previous employment with government agencies and her regular attendance at City Council meetings. "I'm a very hard worker," she said.

Dobyns said he wants to be a part of Seminole. He said there are "lovely things about Seminole," such as its library, recreation center and business community.

Matthews said he has proved his leadership on the council and wants to continue working for the betterment of Seminole.

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