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    6-0 vote makes Gentry commissioner

    The City Commission chooses a woman active in the community to fill a seat, and quells rumors that frightened mobile home owners.

    By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 5, 2003


    LARGO -- More than 120 people jammed City Commission chambers last night to have their say, but it wasn't what commissioners had in mind.

    Most of the standing-room-only crowd showed up to talk about a rumor that their mobile homes were in danger. Commissioners quelled that rumor, then set about appointing a fresh face to their ranks.

    Gay Gentry was unanimously appointed to fill the seat vacated by former Commissioner Marty Shelby, who resigned last month to challenge Mayor Bob Jackson in the March 4 city election.

    Gentry, 58, has been active on city boards and in the community for a dozen years.

    She was appointed by secret ballot from among a field of 17 Largo residents who sought the job.

    "I'm a little overwhelmed," Gentry said. "I'm a little stunned that it was 6-0. I'm very much aware of the responsibility. As an appointed commissioner, I'll work even harder than normal."

    The process wasn't without some bumps.

    From the audience, Dale Alford accused commissioners of backroom dealing in their choice and questioned how they could unanimously pick Gentry without discussing it first among themselves. Commissioners denied the charge.

    "I read all the credentials." said Commissioner Harriet Cozier. "Many of you that put something down, you didn't come from the heart. It was not a backroom deal."

    Jackson said there was no violation of the state's open government laws.

    Gentry is a retired teacher who graduated from the University of South Florida. She has been chairwoman of the city's recreation, parks and arts advisory board and the city's strategic planning steering committee.

    She will finish Shelby's term, which expires in 2004.

    As a commissioner, Gentry now has a say in overseeing a $110-million budget in Pinellas County's third-largest city. Commissioners are paid $9,147.18 a year.

    In addition to the mayoral race, with Shelby challenging Jackson, Largo voters will choose two commissioners next election. Tom Robbins is challenging Pat Gerard for Seat 3 and Ernie Bach is challenging Jean Halvorsen for Seat 4.

    Now, about all those people who showed up to defend their mobile homes.

    Those people, who live along Clearwater-Largo Road, this week received a flier that said -- in large bold type -- that their mobile homes were in danger. "This is your last chance," the flier declared, though not saying about what.

    It urged them to attend Tuesday night's commission meeting to "voice your concerns about losing your homes."

    Several of the residents spoke, asking the city what was going to happen.

    The mayor said the city hadn't sent the flier, which was not signed.

    "You can get more people out with a bogus letter than you can with a certified one," he said.

    -- Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or samuels@sptimes.com .

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