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PASCO COMM

Make it official: Leon Montambault was appointed to fill the vacant seat in May; he faces challengers Larry Crowley and Alex Haak. Whoever wins will serve until March 2006.

By ANDREW MEACHAM
Published October 26, 2004

Three candidates will vie for one commission seat in a special election.

Leon Montambault, appointed in May to fill the vacancy, now asks voters to make it official. Challengers Larry Crowley and Alex Haak say it's time for a change.

Whichever candidate wins will oversee the only profit-making part of the city, its Community Improvement department. Since his arrival, Montambault has reorganized the department, which issues building permits; he said it had developed a reputation for sloppy record-keeping. But one of Montambault's opponents questions his leadership style. The other suggested Montambault and other commissioners are out of touch with the needs of a changing community.

"He came in here like a bulldozer," Haak said.

Impromptu smoke breaks ended. Visitors fond of lounging and chatting with employees ran into a hard gray counter Montambault had built to discourage socializing.

At the same time, building plans once stored in plastic barrels soon will be available on compact disc, Montambault said. Builders will be able to find their permits on the Internet.

"People say, "You can't run it like a business,' and I say, why not?" Montambault said. "We do collect money. We have made changes for the better."

Among more than a dozen goals cited, Haak said he would try to bury the city's utility lines, improve the city's Web site and expand the uses of the local access channel.

Haak also is arguing to get rid of the city attorney. The $115,000 paid to Linda Hallas plus support staff could be better spent, Haak claims. His campaign literature cites Gulfport, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island as examples of larger cities that do not have a full-time city attorney.

Those cities do employ city managers, but Haak said he doesn't think South Pasadena needs one of those, either.

Hallas' supporters point to the money she raises through successful grant applications or saves through negotiations such as the city's recent success in shaving $160,000 off the sheriff's contract.

"She more than makes her salary," Montambault said.

At 41, Crowley is 23 years younger than his closest peer. The businessman said the city is working below its potential.

"I think my opponents may have come to South Pasadena to retire, which is fine," Crowley said. "But I am here to raise my children so that they have a lot of things at their fingertips, and not have to go to Tampa or St. Pete."

Decades of catering to seniors at the expense of youth has created an unfriendly business climate, Crowley contended, and the feeling is mutual, he said.

When the city asked local businesses to participate in a "Taste of South Pasadena" for its 50th birthday 2005, few if any have accepted. Crowley called that sad, a testament of the frustration business owners have with the city.

All three candidates say they will hold down expenses in a city that just raised the millage rate to keep its deficit at about $300,000. Montambault said he wants to get a post office in the city, which he said would lower automobile insurance rates for residents. Crowley argued that he could increase revenues for the building department.

The at-large commission seat became available when Commissioner Joan Runyon moved out of town with a year and a half left on her term. Whoever wins will serve until March 2006. Because Montambault has been filling the post, his advertisements ask voters in bold red letters to "re-elect" him.

That rankles his opponents, who note that Montambault was not elected to his current position.

"I think that's a fraud," Haak said.

"It's the first thing I noticed," Crowley said of the advertisements.

Montambault said he can legally advertise that way. And according to the county's Supervisor of Elections office, he can.

State law forbids nonincumbents in an office from using the word "re-elect" in campaign literature. However, an opinion in 2001 noted that the word "incumbent" was not well defined, said elections specialist Michael Greenman. The opinion stated that a person appointed into office is an incumbent, and may use "re-elect" in campaign advertisements.

THE JOB

A mayor and four commissioners vote on key decisions for the City Commission of South Pasadena, the city's highest governing body. During their three-year terms, commissioners also divide oversight of the city's policing, public works, finance and building departments. The commissioner's salary is $5,700, or $475 a month.

LARRY CROWLEY, 41, was born in St. Petersburg. He grew up in Seminole and graduated from Seminole High School and St. Petersburg Junior College (now St. Petersburg College). A resident of South Pasadena for 11 years, Crowley has owned several companies, including his current businesses, Cutting Edge Granite in Largo and a chain of ice cream stores in four states. Crowley said he thinks he can use his business experience to move the city forward. He is married and has two children. ASSETS: Home; businesses. LIABILITIES: Mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: Granite company and retail stores.

ALEX HAAK, 72, grew up in the Netherlands and came to this country in 1951. He served for the Army in the Korean conflict. Haak has owned a printing company. He has courses in economics and city planning at Rutgers University and the State University of New Jersey. He has been widowed and divorced, and has three adult children. Haak served in 1975 as mayor of Toms River, N.J. He has organized Little League and youth soccer competitions and received awards from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lions International, and Loyal Order of the Moose clubs. Haak has lived in South Pasadena for three years. In March, he ran for mayor but lost. ASSETS: Home. LIABILITIES: Mortgage in Tom's River, N.J. SOURCES OF INCOME: Social Security; similar benefit from Netherlands government.

LEON MONTAMBAULT, 64, grew up and spent part of his adult life in Hartford, Conn. He served as an Air Force Air Commando in Vietnam, then finished an engineering degree at the University of Miami. He owns a Tampa company, Custom Quality Manufacturing, and has lived in South Pasadena for a year and a half. He is a member of Knights of Columbus, Rear Commodore of the Harbourside Yacht Club, and entertainment chair for the Pass-A-Grille Yacht Club. In May, Montambault was appointed to fill a vacancy created when Commissioner Joan Runyon moved out of town. He is married and has two daughters and five grandchildren. ASSETS: Home; business. LIABILITIES: Mortgage. SOURCES OF INCOME: Manufacturing company; commissioner's salary.

[Last modified October 25, 2004, 12:04:11]

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