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6 candidates say how they'd improve Seminole

Many of the would-be council members cite traffic, growth and issues of seniors and youth as areas of concern.

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003


SEMINOLE -- Voters here soon will head to the polls to choose three people who will make decisions about their city.

Six candidates are vying for three seats on the City Council. The election is March 4.

Incumbents Pete Bengston and Patricia Hartstein are seeking to keep their seats. John Counts is making his second run for a spot on the council. Newcomers Henry Biernack, Jimmy Johnson and Simon Montag are hoping to win their first political race.

All agree that Seminole is a great place to live, but there is room for improvement. Most of the candidates say they would work on making the roads safer, especially for seniors who regularly walk across busy thoroughfares.

John Counts, 36, says he would like to see the city beef up its traffic patrol. Seminole currently has one sheriff's deputy devoted to traffic problems, such as speeding.

If elected, Counts says he would continue the city's current annexation policy. City administrators describe their growth plan as laid-back, one in which people voluntarily ask to join Seminole. The city has doubled in size and population since 2000.

Counts also says the city needs to make sure services can keep pace with growth. And, he adds, he would make it a priority to address the concerns of residents in newly-annexed areas.

Counts says he would like to see more programs for youths and seniors at the city's recreation center. The city should consider starting an after-school program at the complex and providing a skateboard park for youths, he says.

Pete Bengston, 68, says his top priorities for Seminole are opening a skateboard park so youths have a safe place to gather and buying 22 undeveloped acres near Long Bayou for a park. He also says the city needs to do more for its older residents, such as turning the current City Hall into a senior center when government offices move next year to the existing library. Bengston wants Seminole to continue annexing unincorporated areas that want to join the city. He says he also would like a safer passage across 113th Street, where the recreation center, new library and St. Petersburg College are on one side and the new City Hall will be on the other. Perhaps an overpass, he says.

One of Simon Montag's concerns for Seminole is making sure the city has a disaster plan in place because of a possible war with Iraq. If elected, he says, he would strive to keep the millage rate from increasing.

Montag, 36, says he's lived in Seminole most of his life and wants to help shape its future. "I will definitely make sure everyone's voice is heard," he said.

Jimmy Johnson, 60, says he would focus on economic development and redevelopment in the city. He says he also is concerned with the amount of traffic in Seminole and would work to synchronize stop lights and improve major intersections.

He says the city needs to continue its "controlled growth" so services will meet the needs of new residents. He also would like the city to start a volunteer program for residents and to host quarterly town hall meetings in various neighborhoods.

"I'm really excited," he said of his campaign. "I feel like I can work really well with the current council. I'm not really running against anybody. I'm running for a seat."

Patricia Hartstein says she attributes the good things in Seminole -- a smart growth plan, a new recreation complex, a low millage rate and an efficient city staff -- to the current council and the city manager-style of government that began in 1995.

"I have education, experience and commitment," said Hartstein, 55.

She says she wants the city to continue its partnerships, citing the teamwork of Seminole and St. Petersburg College in building a new library. She also wants the council to continue dialogue with a business advisory council formed by Mayor Dottie Reeder, identify a business district such as a main street and improve its relationship with county government.

Henry Biernack, 63, says he wants the city to provide free transportation for seniors so they can get to stores and doctor appointments.

Biernack also would like to keep property taxes from rising. "My main objective is to keep the taxes low," he said.

Biernack also approves of the city's current annexation policy.

The job

Voters will choose three of six candidates -- Pete Bengston, Henry Biernack, John Counts, Patricia Hartstein, Jimmy Johnson and Simon Montag -- for three City Council seats in the March 4 election. Council members run citywide and earn $5,400 a year. They serve two-year terms.

Where to vote

Voting is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 4. The polling places are Seminole Community Library, 9199 113th St. N, for precincts 310, 316, 317, 318, 324 and 325; Seminole United Methodist Church, 5400 Seminole Blvd., for precincts 301, 303, 305 and 307; and Starkey Road Baptist Church, 8800 Starkey Road, for precincts 254, 256, 266 and 275. For information, call City Clerk Beverly Brown at 391-0204.

Candidate forums

The Greater Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce will host a "Meet the Candidates" at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Banquet Masters, 8100 Park Blvd. The $10 cost includes lunch. To register, call 392-3245.

Seminole Garden Community Club will present a forum at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the clubhouse at Seminole Garden Apartments, 8324 112th St. It's free. For information, call Leo Mutchler at 394-1104.

THE CANDIDATES

Pete Bengston

AGE: 68.

BACKGROUND: Bengston is seeking his second term on the council. Appointed to the board in 2000 after Penny Rasmussen vacated her seat, he was elected in 2001 and now serves as vice mayor. Born in Springfield, Mass., he moved to Florida in 1945 and to the Seminole area in 1965. He became a resident in 1998, when his condominium at 6399 Shoreline Drive was annexed into the city. He attended St. Petersburg Junior College, now St. Petersburg College. He served in the U.S. Army for eight years. He worked in security for the former General Electric plant in Largo from 1956 to 1987. From 1988 to 2001, he owned Seminole Florist. Before serving on the council, Bengston volunteered on the city's business license, charter review and recreation committees. He also served on advisory boards for the city's Fire Department and St. Petersburg College. He is a member of the Pinellas Planning Council, chairman of the Florida League of Cities Annexation Committee and member of the Seminole Pow Wow Committee. He worked as a part-time annexation coordinator for the city in 2000. He and his wife, Fay, have three grown daughters and five granddaughters.

HOBBIES: sports, volunteering as a tour guide at Shriner's Children's Hospital in Tampa.

ASSETS: condominium.

LIABILITIES: none listed.

INCOME: investments, Social Security, retirement pension.

* * *

Henry Biernack

AGE: 63.

BACKGROUND: Biernack is running for his first political office. A native of Poland, his family moved to the United States in 1957 and settled in Chicago. He has one grown son. He moved to Seminole with his wife Agnes in 2001. They live at 112 Elmwood Circle. Biernack is a graduate of Upper Iowa University and Cambridge International Examinations, a department of the University of Cambridge. He served in the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1963. He owned a real estate company in Chicago Ridge, a suburb of Chicago, from 1986 to 2001. He was a medical lab director at St. Francis Hospital in Blue Island, Ill., from 1974 to 1986.

HOBBIES: swimming, table tennis and golf.

ASSETS: condominium.

LIABILITIES: none listed.

SOURCE OF INCOME: investments.

* * *

John Counts

AGE: 36.

BACKGROUND: Counts is making his second bid for political office. Born and raised in St. Petersburg, he lives at 9897 Ashley Drive. He and his wife, Cynthia, have a 5-year-old daughter. He is a financial consultant for A.G. Edwards and worked as a bank manager for 13 years. He is a graduate of Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida in Tampa. He became a resident in 2001, when his neighborhood was annexed into the city. He is treasurer of the Quail Ridge Homeowners Association, a member of Junior Achievement and co-chairman of the Seminole Pow Wow Committee.

HOBBIES: distance running and softball.

ASSETS: home, stocks, bonds.

LIABILITIES: mortgage, loan.

SOURCE OF INCOME: A.G. Edwards.

* * *

Jimmy Johnson

AGE: 60.

BACKGROUND: Johnson is seeking his first political office. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1965 to 1969. A native of Fayetteville, N.C., he moved to the Seminole area in 1980. A retired Kmart manager, he was transferred to a Seminole store in 1980. He was employed by Kmart for 30 years before retiring in 1997. In 1982, he was awarded the chamber's Merit Award and the chamber's Boss of the Year award. In 1985, he was named Mr. Seminole, the chamber's highest honor given to a resident who has volunteered many hours for chamber and city events. He became a resident in 2000, when his condominium at 1148 Fernwood Circle was annexed into the city. Johnson is the executive director of the Greater Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce. He is divorced and has two grown daughters.

HOBBIES: biking, walking, golfing.

ASSETS: condominium.

LIABILITIES: mortgage.

SOURCE OF INCOME: Greater Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce, Guetzlaff Realty, retirement pension.

* * *

Patricia Hartstein

AGE: 55.

BACKGROUND: Hartstein is seeking a fifth term on the City Council. She lives at 11189 Valencia Ave. She was born in Camden, N.J., and moved to Seminole in 1974. She is a graduate of the University of South Florida. She has been a teacher for Pinellas County schools since 1982 and currently works as a dropout prevention specialist at Pinellas Technical Education Center in Clearwater. She sits on the Community Advisory Council for St. Petersburg College Seminole campus and is a member of Seminole Kiwanis Club and Seminole Pow Wow Committee. She is a widow and has two grown children.

HOBBIES: traveling, reading and watching T.V. reality shows.

ASSETS: home, annuity.

LIABILITIES: mortgage, car payment.

INCOME: Pinellas County Schools.

* * *

Simon Montag

AGE: 36.

BACKGROUND: Montag is running for his first political office. He lives at 10991 Grove Terrace. He was born in Green Bay, Wis., and moved to Seminole in 1970. He and his wife, Jenny, have a 2-year-old son. He is a graduate of Dixie Hollins High School near Kenneth City. He works as a claims adjuster for United Service Protection in St. Petersburg.

HOBBIES: none listed.

ASSETS: two homes.

LIABILITIES: mortgage.

SOURCE OF INCOME: United Service Protection, rental property.

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