2 win their seats by default
Vice Mayor Carlen Petersen and George Cretekos face no rival in March elections.
By MIKE DONILA
Published December 19, 2006
CLEARWATER - The election for three open City Council seats isn't until March, but two have already been decided.
Current Vice Mayor Carlen Petersen and longtime local political handler George Cretekos eased into office when no one filed to oppose them by Friday's qualifying deadline.
But there will be a race to fill the seat held by Bill Jonson, who cannot run because of term-limit restrictions.
Norma Carlough, who has served on a number of Clearwater advisory boards, and Paul Gibson, an outspoken critic of the council and the city's recently approved budget, will square off March 13.
Both Carlough and Gibson say residents are feeling the pressures of high taxes and high insurance rates. And while city government can't do much about insurance, they do want to find ways to reduce taxes.
Carlough has been active on the local civic scene the past 3 1/2 years, having served on several Clearwater advisory boards and studied various planning initiatives, as well as the Air Park.
Carlough has lived here 35 years and is retired from the insurance and finance business.
"I've gotten to know a lot about the city and the people who work for the city and are interested in the city, and this seemed like a natural progression from volunteering," said Carlough, 70. "The volunteer work gives you the feeling of a profession, and it gives you experience and contacts, and let's face it, experience is experience."
She said some other key areas to focus on during the next few years are redevelopment, public safety and making sure there's a waterfront "that's good for all citizens."
Gibson, a 58-year-old Northern transplant who's lived in the city since 1997, also has some civic work under his belt.
A Realtor with ReMax Action First on Clearwater Beach, Gibson said he took extensive accounting courses in college, "and I understand the numbers." He also served as chairman of a local finance advisory committee when he lived in Foxborough, Mass.
He says government should perform essential services that the private sector can't, and Clearwater leaders should "really put the focus on managing the resources of this city."
A second term
Petersen, 52, will officially begin her second term in office in March. A self-proclaimed professional community volunteer, she has racked up a number of local affiliations, including the YWCA of Tampa Bay, the Junior League of Clearwater-Dunedin and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Partnership. Before running for office in 2004, she served on the city's Community Development Board for about four years.
She said she sought office "to give back to her community" and said she's proud that in the past three years the council has been able to engage residents through meetings, task forces and programs.
"I've always said from the get-go that the best form of government is when everyone is involved, and the best way I can do my job is when we hear from the residents of the city," Petersen said.
Petersen added that public safety will also be a big issue in the city, but in the next couple of years local leaders also will have to look at development in the downtown as well as the beach.
Stand-in for Hamilton
Cretekos spent 20 years managing Rep. C.W. Bill Young's district office and served as the link between Pinellas County and Washington, D.C. Beginning in March, he'll serve out the remaining year for Hoyt Hamilton, who recently left the council to move to the Atlanta area.
Cretekos said he wanted "an opportunity to give back" to the community and plans to use his experience and contacts from the state and federal level to help the city.
"Obviously, the issues on everyone's mind are taxes, insurance, transportation and education, and as a City Council member, I'll have direct input on them.
"But I'll also have to work with the county and state - and that experience is something I'll be able to bring to the table," said Cretekos, 59.
"I've had the opportunity to work with people and listen to complaints, and I feel I can be a consensus builder - a bridge builder to where we can work together," the Sand Key resident said.
Apathy the problem?
The lack of political opposition appears to be a continuing trend in Clearwater.
In 2004, then-incumbents Frank Hibbard and Hoyt Hamilton each soared into office without opposition. So, too, did political newcomer John Doran, whom some city officials had already dubbed "the sixth council member" because of his regular council attendance.
At the time, many political observers felt the three had too much name recognition to lose in an election and that they would all do a pretty good job.
Others felt running for the council might not be worth the headache. A seat on the five-member, nonpartisan board is considered part time and pays $17,735.12 a year.
Some suggested that there is just a general sense of political apathy in Clearwater. That, however, may not be entirely true now. While council meetings to discuss budgetary issues in the past have been sparsely attended, this year saw a packed City Hall on numerous nights.
But how that is eventually reflected in the March 13 election still remains to be seen.