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A Times Editorial

Geiger and Smith for Zephyrhills City Council

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002

The annual rite of spring is here in Zephyrhills: Somebody is running for office on an anticity administration platform.

The property tax rate remains stable while the city continues to improve its downtown core, expand its parks, progress at the airport, bolster the library, complete a fire station and begin work on a new police station. City Manager Steve Spina becomes the focal point, said Council member Elizabeth Geiger, because there's little else with which to find fault.

She is right, and this year she has drawn that candidate -- former council member Robert Taylor, who has done little campaigning. Taylor declined to be interviewed by the Times and skipped an AARP-sponsored forum, and his written replies to questions from the Zephyrhills News indicated a lack of familiarity with city issues.

His two-year tenure in the 1990s was marked by an acrimonious attempt to ease the rules to fire Spina's predecessor. Taylor voted against support for the fledgling Main Street Inc. group, and butted into management affairs at the city airport even though a separate Airport Authority is charged with overseeing the facility. Zephyrhills does not need a return of his meddlesome ways.

Geiger, who has served on the council for 10 years, merits another term. She is progressive, helped guide the city through its period of growth and is a staunch supporter of the current administration. She believes the city needs to be proactive in planning for growth and wants to ensure land annexed for development does not drain current city services.

If Geiger is re-elected, she will move up one rung in seniority. Longtime council member/mayor James Bailey is retiring. Seeking to replace him are developer Lance Smith, teacher Celia Graham and nurse and former firefighter David Barnes.

The largest issue facing the trio is the future of Krusen Field. The Zephyrhills Bottle Water Co. has offered to build the city a new park in exchange for the city field so it can expand its warehouse space.

Barnes, to his credit, reversed an earlier knee-jerk reaction. He confessed to signing a petition against the idea because he feared increase truck traffic near his neighborhood. After more consideration, he said it would be difficult to turn down the proposal if it benefited the city as a whole through an increased tax base and state-of-the-art recreational facilities. Graham opposes selling the field to the water company. Smith and Geiger both said they want more information.

Barnes has a short platform, saying city workers need a better grievance policy. Graham, too, offers a limited vision for the city, saying she will come aboard absent a predetermined agenda or ties to special interests.

Smith brings an impressive resume. He serves on the city's planning commission, economic development committee and board of adjustment and previously was affiliated with Zephyrhills Main Street Inc. and the YMCA board of directors. His family, the developer of Silver Oaks, donated the land on which the YMCA sits. He also has knowledge of real estate laws and planning issues and understands constituents service from administering a homeowners association. Smith's experience is unmatched in the race for council seat 4.

For Zephyrhills City Council, the Times recommends Elizabeth Geiger and Lance Smith.

* * *

Voters in the tiny town of Saint Leo also head to the polls April 9 for the city's first contested election in 13 years. Incumbent Richard Christmas is challenged by John Fantone for a seat on the town commission.

Fantone, a recent transplant from Tampa to the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club, touts his 32 years of banking and insurance experience as an asset to the city's fiscal management. He has many favorable attributes. But, in an interview, Fantone, who served three years as assistant to the athletic director at the University of South Florida, focused almost exclusively on the role of Saint Leo University within the town.

Christmas, an east Pasco native, is more attuned to the other issues confronting this hamlet that totaled only 43 homes prior to the Lake Jovita development. He pushed the deal that allowed access to the university's swimming pool for town residents and reduced public safety costs by negotiating to extend the time the town had to replace patrol cars for sheriff's deputies assigned to Saint Leo.

Christmas can't match Fantone's sophistication, but his tenure on the commission has been a good match for the town. The Times recommends Richard Christmas for re-election to the Saint Leo Town Commission.

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