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Safety Harbor needs some people to step up

Published November 15, 2007


Seldom has a North Pinellas community struggled so for stability than Safety Harbor, which lately seems to have a revolving door on City Hall. The city has lost four commissioners and two city managers in the last two years alone.

The kicker was a surprise announcement by Vice Mayor Kathleen Earle last week that she is submitting her resignation, effective no later than Jan. 21. Her term was due to expire in 2009. She cited time pressures and family obligations, but she did not elaborate.

Earle's announcement came after midnight at last week's lengthy City Commission meeting. With candidate qualifying for three City Commission seats already underway for the Jan. 29 election, commissioners and the city attorney were not sure how to handle Earle's departure. At a hastily arranged special meeting two days later, commissioners voted to add Earle's Seat 2 to the Jan. 29 ballot and immediately open qualifying for that seat, but no one knows who in the community, if anyone, is prepared to run for it on such short notice.

Safety Harbor has established a pattern of sudden departures and hastily arranged Plan B's. One almost needs a scorecard to keep track.

Former Mayor Pam Corbino resigned suddenly in July 2006. Commissioner Andy Steingold immediately was named interim mayor by his commission colleagues and won the right to finish out Corbino's term in a special election in last March. He is running again for a full three-year term in the Jan. 29 election.

When Steingold was named interim mayor, his commission seat had to be filled with a temporary appointee, Claude Rigsby. Also in 2006, Commissioner Kara Bauer resigned to move to Texas, so commissioners had to appoint a temporary replacement, Martha MacReynolds, until the March election. Both of those seats were filled this year when the only two candidates, Nadine Nickeson and Joseph Ayoub, were seated without opposition.

In August, Commissioner James McCormick Jr. had his own surprise announcement. After serving only a little more than a year, he resigned, saying he no longer had the time to fulfill his duties. An ex-commissioner, Keith Zayac, was appointed as a temporary replacement for McCormick until the Jan. 29 election could seat a permanent replacement.

The comings and goings extended to the city administration too.

Former City Manager Wayne Logan resigned in 2006. In October of that year, the city hired Billy Beckett to be the new city manager. Beckett, who was also a professional referee for college and arena football, lasted less than a year. Matt Spoor is now the city manager.

With a population of about 17,000, Safety Harbor is a small town, but there is still important work to be done there. The city has been working on creating a vision for the community, finding new ways to support downtown redevelopment, controlling traffic and speeds in the community, and other goals, but it is difficult for commissioners to hit their stride when they don't know who will be sitting in the seats next to them from one month to the next.

Safety Harbor's small size handicaps it when there are vacancies on the commission. While many residents have come forward to help when a temporary replacement was needed, there is far less interest in running for the permanent positions. Finding well-prepared people who understand the commitment of time required to do the job of commissioner or mayor is difficult when the population to draw from is small.

If any of those people have been sitting back mulling a run for the City Commission "some day," they are needed now.

[Last modified November 14, 2007, 22:53:10]

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