Five vie for Zephyrhills council
By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
ZEPHYRHILLS -- What a difference a year makes.
Last April, municipal elections in Zephyrhills passed with hardly anyone noticing. Mike Bussell defeated incumbent Tim Ippolito in a quiet, gentlemanly race.
Two other council seats went uncontested.
This year, two seats up for grabs on the City Council have drawn a total of five candidates, and both races promise to be hotly contested.
Meanwhile, no one will challenge Cliff McDuffie for the mayor's spot.
In Zephyrhills, candidates must chose which seat to run for. But no matter what seat they choose, each candidate faces several hot-button issues: inevitable growth in Zephyrhills, whether the city should sell Krusen Field to the bottled water company and the ongoing debate over the performance of City Manager Steve Spina.
Two council veterans will square off for Seat 2.
Incumbent Elizabeth Geiger, 58, has served on the council for the past 10 years and has lived in Zephyrhills nearly four decades.
She says growth is the biggest issue facing the city. She says she wants to make sure that, as the city grows, development doesn't hinder the city's current services.
Geiger has remained a staunch supporter of Spina throughout the past year, as he has come under fire after hiring a computer contractor who wasn't yet properly licensed by the state.
She said she wants to get more information before forming an opinion about Krusen Field.
Meanwhile, Geiger's challenger, 73-year-old Robert Taylor, is trying to make a return to the council. Taylor served two years on the council until he was defeated in 1995 by Tim Ippolito, 68 percent to 32 percent.
Taylor, a Spina critic, has said he threw his hat back in the ring because he wants to remedy the infighting that has plagued the current council, which he said prevents any work from getting done.
A resident of the Meadowood community, Taylor has said he opposes the city selling historic Krusen Field to Zephyrhills Spring Water Co.
With veteran Jim Bailey stepping down, three council newcomers will vie for the vacant seat.
David Barnes, 39, served as a city firefighter for 14 years. He said that his experience as a city employee is his greatest asset.
Barnes, now a registered nurse at Heartland of Zephyrhills, said he hopes to create a more efficient grievance system for city employees. He also said he would support the city selling Krusen Field if it received a state-of-the-art park and an increased tax base in return.
Celia Graham, 41, is a teacher at West Zephyrhills Elementary School.
She has said that her greatest advantage is coming into the race with no commitments or ties to any special interests. She has no one to answer to, she said, only the best interests of taxpayers.
Graham said she opposes the selling of Krusen Field to Zephyrhills Spring Water Co. She said she fears that home values will fall, and local children will suffer without a park nearby.
Lance Smith, 39, is a Zephyrhills native who left town only to attend the University of Florida.
Smith serves on the city's Planning Commission, economic development committee and board of adjustment. His family donated the land where the city's YMCA sits.
Smith has said his main issue is making good decisions about how to control the growth that Zephyrhills faces in coming years.
Like Geiger, Smith has said he wants to hear more information about the Krusen Field issue before forming an opinion.
As of March 6, there were 7,241 registered voters in Zephyrhills. Only 666, or slightly more than 10 percent of last year's registered voters, voted in last year's election.
The only polling place for Tuesday's election will be Alice Hall Community Center, 38116 Fifth Ave. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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