You can excuse New Port Richey's electorate if it suffers double vision.
At first glimpse, the city faces the loss of its top employer and taxpayer, a fledgling redevelopment effort that contains controversial elements, and understandable citizen grumblings about a push to assess new fees for basic services.
But take a look again. The city has built and opened a new police station, developed the James E. Grey Preserve, expanded its river walk, built a hugely popular skate park for its youths, and made grants available for homeowners to spruce up their property. Clearly, the city is not falling apart as its most die-hard critics would have you believe.
Likewise, the top candidates for the April 8 election reflect the same mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses. The top three vote-getters win two-year terms. The five candidates include incumbents Tom Finn, Ginny Miller and Susan M. Clark.
Finn's characterization of churches, charities and the poor as "freeloaders" is an insulting justification for the misguided policy of assessing across-the-board fees for fire service and street lights. He needs obvious work on his communication and inter-personal skills. He walked out of a public meeting and threatened to resign, chided his fellow council members for not appointing him vice mayor, and asked for censure of Miller because of some unspecified sexual harassment allegations she made against him.
Despite those embarrassing episodes, Finn, seeking a third term, brings many attributes to the council. He is a strong proponent of redevelopment and his vision for increasing youth activities was the catalyst for the skate park that opened at the city's recreation center and spurred the movement to improve other aspects of the center's pool and grounds. He is energetic and full of ideas.
Miller, the council's senior member in terms of consecutive years of service, is not without her own faults. Her inability to speak authoritatively on city issues after five years in office is disappointing. But she has helped forge compromises on devisive budget issues and correctly objects to pushing public safety and street light costs onto charities and the owners of the city's poorest homes.
Both Finn and Miller merit re-election. The same can't be said for the third incumbent, Susan Clark, who did not respond to interview requests. In a television appearance, Clark, competing for her first term, touted her desire to help people and pointed to her marriage as an asset. Her husband is former County Commissioner David "Hap" Clark Jr. But the ex-commissioner isn't on the ballot, she is, and after two years in office she should have more than her marital status as the chief plank in her platform.
During a public forum last week she again stated she wants to help people, then she declined to answer when asked about the proposed city acquisition of the former Hacienda Hotel. If she truly enjoys assisting people, she should do the public a huge service and delineate her stance on the looming controversy.
One of the challengers, Robby Poff, is making his second run for office. He declined to provide information about his candidacy to the Times and demonstrated an unfamiliarity with city issues during the candidate forum.
Bob Langford is the preferred choice. A sound engineering consultant, Langford grew up in New Port Richey and moved back five years ago. He is familiar with the workings of the local government, having attended council meetings for five years. He also sits on a trio of citizen advisory boards.
He belives the city is wrong to push fire and street light costs onto every property owner. Noting the constant criticism aimed at the city from some quarters, Langford advocates town meetings to improve the communication between City Hall and its residents. The city has used those forums sporadically to build consensus on major issues, but not routinely as Langford suggests.
He would like the city to consider construction of a hike-and-bike trail to connect with Port Richey's path and he wants the city to be more ambitious in its use of technology. His ideas and community service make Langford a substantially stronger candidate than Poff or Clark.