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A Times Editorial

TIMES RECOMMENDS: Joyce Valentino for Citrus County Commission


© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

The fundamental issue in the upcoming Citrus County Commission election is growth. Everything else, from improving water quality and planning new roads to boosting the gas tax and the Suncoast Parkway, are simply spinoffs.

The question before voters in the Republican primary for the District 4 commission seat, then, is who will make the best decisions for the entire county on the many growth-related issues the board will face in the next four years.

Since the Democrats decided to sit out the Sept. 10 primary, Republicans alone will choose among Jim Fowler, a pro-business incumbent strongly backed by the county's building community; John Thrumston, the owner of a small business and a relative newcomer to the county; and Joyce Valentino, an energetic civic activist who has fought mining companies and government agencies on behalf of her neighbors for more than 10 years.

The choice is clear.

Recognizing the critical need for the public to be heard during this period of Citrus County's development, the Times recommends that Republicans send Valentino to the Nov. 5 general election against stucco contractor Scott Adams, who has no party affiliation.

Valentino, like Thrumston, has not held an elected office. Unlike Thrumston, however, she has been intensely engaged in county affairs for years as an advocate for citizens. And, unlike Fowler, she can honestly assert that she represents all citizens, not just one segment of the county.

Fowler, 62 and a millionaire two-term commission veteran, has long touted his business experience and connections, and his candidacy bears that out. The bulk of his contributors are business owners who stand to gain financially if Citrus allows unfettered development.

Fowler's performance during the controversy over the Halls River Retreat time share condominium project showed that he has little interest in living up to the spirit, if not the letter, of the county's comprehensive growth management plan.

His platform focuses on planning new roads and for building more recreational facilities, including a center-county sports complex or a water park. While it is good policy to anticipate infrastructure needs, his stance assumes that growth here will occur unchecked. Where is the interest in managing this growth?

Thrumston, 37 and the owner of an interior design company, moved to Citrus County in 1999. His top priority is improving water quality, particularly on the east side of Citrus, an area that he says Fowler has ignored. Other commissioners, he notes, have worked doggedly to improve water quality in west Citrus.

Having moved to Citrus from Pinellas County, Thrumston knows the perils of runaway development. He supports the comprehensive plan and, as such, he would have voted against the Halls River project as being incompatible with the plan and the community.

Thrumston also says the county should market itself better as a tourist destination, thereby generating more revenue to pay for the county's needs.

There is little new in Thrumston's platform, however. His intention to seek outside funding for water projects follows a trail blazed by Commissioner Gary Bartell to a well that is drying up. His notion that tourism can be a money-maker is hardly fresh and misses the point that tourism alone won't support the local economy.

Win or lose, he says he will get more involved in the community. That commitment, coupled with a greater knowledge of Citrus County, eventually will make him a more viable candidate. In short, he would get to where Joyce Valentino is now.

Valentino, 54, is a self-employed manager of rental properties. Her baptism into local politics came a decade ago when she led her Heatherwood neighbors in a successful fight against Florida Rock's attempts to reopen the nearby Storey mine. Since then, she has worked tirelessly on a host of other community issues.

Valentino is a constant presence at meetings of the County Commission and various state and federal agencies, educating herself in all facets of government. Her efforts have had a common theme: ensuring that the public has a say in decisions that affect their lives.

Managing growth is the center of her platform, from adhering to the comprehensive plan to regularly reviewing impact fees to make sure growth pays for itself. She strongly supports protecting lakes and rivers from pollution as well as from urban areas that would pump Citrus waterways dry.

Her opponents portray her as a naysayer and obstructionist, as if fighting bad government is a sin. Valentino points out the positive accomplishments of her efforts, such as the fire training center in Lecanto that she backed and the county's efforts to limit nitrates in groundwater. While Valentino wants to be the voice of the people, she calls for more communication among the government, developers and the citizens.

Fowler is correct when he notes that Citrus County now has a "3-2 board." Most of the significant votes by the commission go that way. Unfortunately, the wishes of ordinary citizens often are on the losing end of those tallies.

This election is an opportunity for residents to turn that tide and to make a statement that they want Citrus County to grow in a responsible, managed way. The best person in the Republican field to make that happen is Joyce Valentino.

Opportunity to reply

Candidates who are not recommended by the Times editorial board are invited to respond. Replies should be no longer than 250 words and must be received by noon Wednesday, Sept. 4. Deliver to 301 W Main St., Inverness, FL, 34450, or fax to: (352) 860-7320, or e-mail as a text-only file to citrus@sptimes.com.

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