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PINELLAS COMM 1

Divided on development: Republican Ronnie Duncan and Democrat Norm Roche paint each other as extremists on development issues.

NICK COLLINS
Published October 26, 2004

Two first-time candidates for public office are vying for the County Commission District 1 seat in a race that centers on development, county-city relations and each man's background.

Republican Ronnie Duncan and Democrat Norm Roche are running to replace longtime Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd, who is not seeking re-election. Both agree on the need for the county to find ways to cooperate with its municipalities. They also agree that the commission should involve residents more in decisionmaking. But the No. 1 difference between the two men, according to both candidates, comes in their views on development.

Each is quick to portray the other as an extremist: Duncan declares that his opponent wants to put a moratorium on progress. Roche claims Duncan would pave the way for a reckless expansion to benefit his developer buddies. But while there are true differences, each man's stated positions are less dramatic than his opponent suggests.

Roche said the county must continue to grow, but cautiously. Continued growth, he said, could jeopardize the county's ability to operate its own utilities and waste-management systems.

"My opponent is a developer," Roche said. "He has stated he wants to remove roadblocks to development. It's not that there's roadblocks, just ways to do it properly."

Duncan said he would like to see the county come up with a long-term plan to help guide future decisions on development. This plan would go beyond the county's already existing comprehensive plan required by the state, he said. For example, it would address the kinds of jobs and businesses the county wants to attract and consider how the county ought to use recreational fields.

Duncan also said the county staff should take time to gather ideas from all parties who have an interest in the county to determine what the plan should entail.

"Every one of us, in our private lives, we plan for our future," Duncan said. "We make decisions so we don't jeopardize our future. The county shouldn't be any different. ... You need a plan."

Duncan said he would like to create designated business nodes and connect them through roadways and public transportation so that growth would not disrupt residential communities.

The candidates also bring different backgrounds to their campaigns. Roche considers himself a "qualified citizen," rather than a politician. Duncan has been an involved fundraiser for Republican candidates on the local and state levels.

Roche said he spent 10 years working for the county to prepare for his run at a seat on the commission.

"It was do your job, do it well and study the process from the inside," Roche said.

Roche likes to portray his opponent as a "good ol' boy," hand-picked by the Republican establishment. But Duncan said his experience as a businessman and his political involvement will help him be an effective commissioner and therefore help the county.

"I've got relationships with elected officials and staff throughout this six-county area," Duncan said. "We've got to work with these people to deal with issues like water, because together is the only way we'll come up with solutions for problems like that."

THE JOB

County Commission District 1 is an at-large seat. The candidate must live in the district but is voted on countywide. The commissioner is part of a seven-member body that oversees a $1.6-billion budget and sets policy. Commissioners serve four-year terms and earn $84,242 annually.

THE CANDIDATES

REPUBLICAN

RONNIE DUNCAN, 47, is a commercial real estate broker with a business in Tampa. He served as chairman on the Southwest Florida Water Management District board. He was a member of the Pinellas Assembly Health Care Task Force and the Indigent Health Care Task Force. He holds a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in urban planning, both from the University of Georgia. He and his wife, Anne Duncan, are active fundraisers for the GOP. They have two children and live in Tarpon Springs. ASSETS: business, home, cash, investments. LIABILITIES: bank debt, car loans, mortgage, property lease. SOURCE OF INCOME: real estate business. WEB SITE: www.ronnieduncan.net

DEMOCRAT

NORM ROCHE, 42, left his job as a public relations specialist with the county's utilities department this summer to campaign for office. Roche was on the county staff for 10 years. He served as chairman on the Pinellas County Employees Advisory Council. Roche graduated from Pinellas Park High School. He is married to Joy Roche, a teacher at Clearwater High School. They have three children and live in Clearwater. ASSETS: home. LIABILITIES: loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: County salary paid through his resignation this summer. WEB SITE: www.votenorm.com

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