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Americans are preoccupied these days with a fascinating and historic presidential race. But tear yourself away from it, Tarpon Springs residents; you have a local election coming up that needs your attention.
In this city election cycle, two seats on the City Commission were scheduled to be filled. Incumbent Commissioner Robin Saenger was re-elected automatically when no one filed to run against her.
Seat 2 Commissioner David Archie is leaving the board because of term limits. A gentlemanly and deliberative public official, Archie deserves the community's thanks for his long years of dedicated service.
Three people are competing to replace Archie.
Tod B. Eckhouse, 60, is a real estate broker and investor. A Texas native, he has lived in Pinellas County for about 40 years and in Tarpon Springs for just under three years. He is a member of the city's Planning and Zoning Board.
Herb Elliott, 61, is an attorney and part owner of a local title company. Born in California, Elliott has lived in Tarpon Springs for 32 years and did two tours of duty as the city attorney: from 1976 to 1987, and from 1992 to 1996.
Susan Slattery, 43, was born in New York and has lived in Tarpon Springs on two different occasions for a total of about 20 years. She is a mortgage broker and outsource mortgage processor.
The St. Petersburg Times has studied the candidates, their backgrounds and the issues in this election and makes its editorial recommendations here.
Tarpon Springs voters also will find three referendum questions on the ballot, all relating to Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital. The Times will make its editorial recommendations on those questions next week.
We urge Tarpon Springs residents to educate themselves on the candidates and the issues and cast their votes March 11.
Tod Eckhouse for City Commission
Tarpon Springs is fortunate to have three well-informed, capable people running for Seat 2. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Of the three, we find Tod Eckhouse has the strongest combination of skills, background, knowledge and personality traits, and we urge voters to choose him to replace Archie.
Like Archie, Eckhouse has a calm demeanor, is soft-spoken and likes to think before he acts. Those are good traits in sometimes fiery Tarpon Springs. He would bring fresh eyes and three decades of business experience to city government.
Eckhouse has lived in Tarpon Springs less than three years, but he has immersed himself in the community that he says accepted him and his family with open arms.
"I get a real homey feeling there," he said. "I get a real sense of place."
Eckhouse and his wife, Louise, bought and restored a historic home on Spring Bayou, learning through that process to value Tarpon's ties to the past. Eckhouse is active in the Tarpon Springs Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce, and serves on the Planning and Zoning Board. He attends nearly all City Commission meetings and is thoroughly familiar with city issues.
Eckhouse says he first learned about Tarpon Springs from Al Ellis after going to work for one of the Ellis banks in the early 1970s. He visited the city often through the years and said he found it "the most unique, picturesque and culturally interesting city in Florida."
While Eckhouse appreciates Tarpon's past, he also understands the ways the city must change to meet the challenges of the future, and his platform melds the two.
A good example is his approach to the Sponge Docks. Business has fallen off there, and some have wondered whether the area can survive with a continued focus on sponging. Eckhouse believes the docks will always be known for their Greek flavor and sponging and he wants that preserved. However, he would like to see the docks area beautified - "It looks a little tired," he said - and he believes the area needs more emphasis on entertainment. He'd like to see Greek dancers performing there on Saturdays, shops open later in the evenings, and sponge demonstrations alongside the river. And the city needs to do a much better job of promoting the Sponge Docks and the historic district, he said.
While he calls himself a strong property rights advocate, Eckhouse said he also understands the need for growth management, code enforcement and ordinances that protect residents. He supports passage of the city "smart code" to guide future growth and action to preserve the city's historic character.
When it comes to the city's history, candidate Herb Elliott knows more than most. Elliott spent many years on the dais at commission meetings, serving as the attorney for the commission. He wrote many of the codes in the city code book.
Elliott says he decided to run for office because he feels the city needs his experience in these difficult times. And since he is semiretired now, he says he has the time to serve. Though he left the city's employ in 1996, he has remained interested in city government and served as chairman of the city Charter Review Commission in 1999.
We have no doubt that knowledge Elliott possesses could be of benefit to the city and we hope he contributes his opinion regularly. But we also have no doubt that if he were elected, the commission would wind up with two city attorneys, and that is one too many. Also, opinions of Elliott are mixed in the community, and his forced departure from the city attorney post by unhappy city commissions years apart is of concern.
Susan Slattery, the third challenger in this race, was drawn into city affairs by the controversy over a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter. She has been a volunteer in local schools, is an ambassador for the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce and attends commission meetings. We like some of her ideas - her concern about the city's aging infrastructure, her emphasis on "going green," and her desire to recruit franchise businesses to occupy empty commercial buildings - but we believe she needs a broader base of knowledge before serving on the commission.
The Times recommends a vote for Tod Eckhouse for City Commission Seat 2.
Candidates not recommended may submit a written response for publication. Responses should be limited to 300 words and may not attack opponents. They must be submitted by 5 p.m. Feb. 26 to Diane Steinle, St. Petersburg Times, 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Or they may be faxed to her at 445-4119 or e-mailed to email@example.com
[Last modified February 21, 2008, 22:06:34]