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A Times Editorial

Fresh ideas come from veteran and newcomer


© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002

New Port Richey's medical-based economy is on life support.

Pending state approval, Community Hospital, the city's largest taxpayer and employer, is planning to relocate within five years. It means a sizable loss to the city's tax base as well as the expected departure of some of the ancillary services within the medical community along the city's south side. North Bay Hospital and All Children's Specialty Clinic also want to leave the city. As nonprofits, neither contribute directly to the property tax base, but both mean commerce to New Port Richey.

Against this backdrop comes the April 9 city election, when voters will fill the mayor's office and a two-year City Council seat. The challenges are many and require balancing seasoned leadership with innovative ideas.

The top candidates for mayor are former council members Frank Parker and Jack Van Keuren. Van Keuren, defeated for re-election last year, served three years on the council and has an extensive resume of community volunteerism. He said he decided to run again because the high-profile personality clashes on the council had tarnished the city's reputation.

We don't dispute his thinking, but prefer Parker's professional experience and broader platform. Parker, a certified public accountant, will bring a fiscally conservative viewpoint to the city at a time it could be facing difficult budget questions because of Community Hospital's potential departure. He wants to expand the incentive program for residential redevelopment, assemble a commercial redevelopment master plan and "instill the pro-development attitude in the employees of the city as well as the citizens."

Parker's six-year tenure on the council ended in 2000 because of term limits. During his council career, he frequently provided a counterpoint to the spending ambitions of Peter Altman. But, Parker also knows the value of a vibrant downtown: the target of substantial improvements during the Altman-Parker years. Parker pushed for acceleration of the downtown sidewalk, street paving and lighting construction to curb merchant disruptions and was dismayed when the city picked Adams Street as the site for the new police station instead of a downtown locale.

Parker's expertise isn't limited to the bottom line. He served as the city's representative to Tampa Bay Water and, if elected, said he would reappoint himself to the position that Mayor Wendy Brenner is vacating. Parker can hit the ground running at a crucial time as the utility wholesaler assumes an ownership interest in the region's first saltwater desalination plant and plans a second facility at the mouth of the Anclote River on the Pasco-Pinellas border.

Parker is the best choice to lead the city of New Port Richey in the uncertain times ahead.

Selecting a council member is not as clear-cut. Incumbent Scott Chittum is seeking a second two-year term. He is a strong supporter of the city administration and correctly advocated more aggressive code enforcement. One of his challengers is political neophyte Harold Windlan, who arrived for an interview with a two-page platform, a copy of the city budget in tow and a new outlook on the city's strengths and weaknesses.

Windlan, a 32-year-old student at Stetson University's law school, grew up in Palm Beach County and moved a few years ago to west Pasco, where his wife's family lives. Windlan and his wife are investing in the community by refurbishing the home they purchased on the Pithlachascotee River. He became interested in local government after a brush with the city about the size of a fence on his property and because he believes property near his home is an ill-conceived future site for the boat ramp now at Sims Park.

He correctly questions the wisdom of targeting substantial redevelopment efforts at the former Hacienda Hotel downtown instead of putting a greater focus on neighborhoods. And, if Community Hospital does depart, Windlan suggests the site could be attractive as a community college satellite campus that at least would bring ancillary businesses. Otherwise, he said, the city needs to market the land aggressively as a viable commercial location. Give Windlan credit for considering the alternatives. Many of the candidates are in denial about the possibility the hospital could be leaving.

Re-electing Chittum is an inoffensive endorsement of the status quo, but we prefer Windlan. While perceived NIMBY issues may have spurred his candidacy, Windlan brings intellect, a high energy level and a more focused outlook as attractive assets.

In the April 9 election, the Times recommends Frank Parker for mayor and Harold Windlan for City Council.

Invitation for rebuttal

Candidates not recommended by the Times are invited to submit rebuttals for publication. Responses should be no more than 250 words and be delivered to the newspaper by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Send them by fax to (727) 869-6239, by e-mail to Bowen@sptimes.com or by U.S. mail to 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668-1499.

Invitation for rebuttal

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