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    Seat 5 race pits 2 styles of running for office

    Seat 5 contenders Frank Hibbard and Bill Jonson are ahead of Lucile Casey and Jeralne Burt in funds, endorsements and paid advice.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- In terms of contributions, endorsements and consultant-spun messages, the front-runners in the race for Seat 5 on the Clearwater City Commission are Frank Hibbard and Bill Jonson. Lucile Casey and Jeralne Burt, the other two contenders for the seat, are running far less expensive, homespun campaigns.

    Voters citywide on March 13 will choose a commissioner from among the four to serve a three-year term.

    Jonson, a retired accountant with a 16-year history of civic activism, has the biggest campaign fund so far with $16,117. Although half of the money is from loans he made to his own campaign, Jonson says he's gratified to have received modest donations from about 100 people.

    Both spheres of city politics have contributed: Save the Bayfront spokeswoman and beach resident Anne Garris, a critic of the city's redevelopment ideas, wrote Jonson a check, as did business people such as contractor Alan Bomstein.

    And Jonson was endorsed by the city's general employee union.

    Hibbard, meanwhile, has raised about $13,700, much of that from business and development-oriented folks. His contributors include attorneys at Johnson Blakely Pope Bokor Ruppel and Burns, who have supported many local campaigns and represent a variety of developers. Bomstein gave $200 to Hibbard's campaign, double his contribution to Jonson.

    An investment officer at a local bank, Hibbard also has been endorsed by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce's political action committee, a committee of beach businessmen and the city's police and firefighter unions.

    Still, Hibbard is sensitive to the perception that he is the business community's anointed candidate. "I'm nobody's boy," Hibbard said.

    Both Hibbard and Jonson have hired political consultants.

    Hibbard's message that he could be a "financial watchdog for City Hall" was tailored by the consultants at Safety Harbor-based Repper, Garcia & Associates, who also are working on Hoyt Hamilton's campaign for Seat 3 and have advised Mayor Brian Aungst.

    Jonson's campaign consultant is David Zachem, who has put together the message that a reasonable guy like Jonson is long overdue at City Hall. Zachem helped orchestrate Kim Berfield's win over former City Commissioner Ed Hooper in a state House race last fall.

    Campaign materials have highlighted Jonson's history of civic involvement in beautification efforts and neighborhood groups, which have made him familiar with city administrators.

    Jonson has appeared occasionally at commission meetings for more than a decade, while Hibbard has been going mainly since last year, when he decided to run.

    Casey, a Realtor and former School Board member, has raised $2,600 for her bid, half from loans to herself. She said she has been running her campaign with a grass-roots network of friends and supporters.

    "I'm doing more walking and talking," Casey said.

    Casey does have the endorsement of her peers at the Greater Clearwater Association of Realtors.

    Burt, a North Greenwood rental property owner who has a history of defying code violations at her properties, had mustered $600 as of last week.

    "I made my own signs," Burt said. "I'm mostly keeping it to my neighborhood."

    Burt, the only candidate in this year's city election who is black, said she chose to run for Seat 5 because it has the most white candidates of all the races. She hopes her opponents will split the white vote and she can get the vote of the city's African-American community, which she thinks wants the commission to have a black member.

    Burt has made only brief comments about issues such as downtown and beach redevelopment, focusing her campaign mainly on how she would represent North Greenwood, a predominantly African-American neighborhood near downtown. She has talked about job training, the creation of new jobs and trying to locate a drug treatment center in the area.

    Hibbard, Casey and Jonson were all inspired to run to improve residents' confidence in City Hall, which they say has deteriorated as city officials made imprudent decisions in the past few years.

    They gave examples including last year's downtown redevelopment plan that residents rejected. They feel the city rushed and spent too much money building the Clearwater Beach roundabout. They all allege that the city has pushed aside basic needs such as drainage projects to focus on glitz, such as planting flowers on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard that died.

    Hibbard, Casey and Jonson all have said they would move the city toward "responsible development," where deals made with developers don't cost the city a lot of money or unduly burden local roads and other infrastructure.

    Casey is the only candidate to promise that she will not raise property taxes.

    And in another unique promise, Casey has vowed to be a "liaison" for the city on education issues to the county.

    Hibbard says redevelopment of the city is crucial to continuing to grow its property tax base and help the city avoid future tax increases.

    "I'm very good at analyzing numbers," Hibbard said. "And I think I've got a better idea what businesses can do to partner with us."

    Hibbard, Jonson and Casey agreed they would make sure concerns like policing, sidewalks, code enforcement and street paving aren't overlooked.

    Jonson has made a big deal of that point.

    "They are important things because the citizens of Clearwater say they're important," Jonson said. "I think people look at neighborhoods even before they look at other areas of the city. They ask, 'Will I have a pleasant place to sit on the back porch and watch the leaves fall in my retirement?' "

    As for downtown, Hibbard envisions working with a developer to create an entertainment, shopping and restaurant complex like St. Petersburg's new BayWalk.

    Jonson talks of taking smaller steps to encourage redevelopment, such as painting city benches, beautifying Cleveland Street and trying to encourage individual property owners to spruce up their buildings. Casey takes a similar approach.

    "Let's do some small stuff first," Jonson said.

    The candidates are all fairly supportive of the city's new beach redevelopment plan.

    But Jonson and Casey expressed some reservations. Jonson worried that traffic circulation on south Clearwater Beach hasn't yet been thoroughly analyzed -- even though the commission has been proceeding with plans to reconfigure the roads for a proposed Marriott resort.

    Both Jonson and Hibbard think the city's Web site should give residents more information.

    But Jonson suggested that Hibbard has copied some of his ideas. For example, Jonson did a survey last year to get residents' input on priorities for his campaign. Then Hibbard launched a survey on his Internet site, Jonson noted.

    "I didn't know there was exclusivity to getting feedback," Hibbard said. "One of the most important aspects of my job is to communicate with customers."

    Clearwater City Commission Seat 5 Candidates

    Jeralne Burt

    AGE: 56

    BACKGROUND: Born in Alabama. Lived in Clearwater most of her life. Has a high school equivalency certificate and has taken various courses at St. Petersburg Junior College in nursing and real estate. Has worked as a home health nurse, sold insurance, worked at a manufacturing company, had a restaurant and briefly operated a North Greenwood teen club. Also bought and rented out up to two dozen properties at a time in North Greenwood. Has had a 20-year conflict with the city over code violations and criminal activity at some of her properties. Has worked as an election poll clerk and supported groups locally such as Head Start, Red Cross swimming classes and the Community Pride day care center. She is married to Errol Kidd. She has three grown children from a previous marriage.

    HOBBIES: Playing bingo all over the country.

    TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "I want to serve the people. I want to be there for them. Around here, people think that's a pipe dream. I really think I'm helping. I'd like them to have somebody around who they can relate to."

    ASSETS: Lists ownership of 18 properties, with 16 in the North Greenwood area.

    LIABILITIES: Judgment against her by a contractor for payment. Mortgages.

    INCOME: Husband's job at a Tampa shipyard, Social Security and rental payments.

    * * *

    Lucile Casey

    AGE: 59

    BACKGROUND: Born in Tennessee, moved here 38 years ago. Has bachelor's degree in Spanish and French from University of Tennessee. Took graduate courses abroad and later, St. Petersburg Junior College real estate courses. Taught high school and college language. After her daughter was killed by a school bus, became an activist. Elected to Pinellas County School Board from 1988 to 1992 and from 1994 to 1998. Now a substitute teacher and real estate agent for Prudential Tropical Realty. Serves as officer in the Del Oro Grove Estates Homeowners Association and has held leadership posts with the Clearwater High School PTA, Clearwater Women's Council of Realtors. Member of several social service groups and a few city committees. She and her husband, Donald, have two children in college. Ran unsuccessfully for Pinellas County Commission in 2000.

    HOBBIES: Travel, tennis, swimming, sailing, bridge, writing.

    TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "My top priority is to bring trust back to the City Commission and accountability with the money. We need to set our priorities. As far as I'm concerned, the priorities of city government are providing the infrastructure first, public safety, water and sewer, and then we go from there."

    ASSETS: Home at 3235 San Mateo St.

    LIABILITIES: Insurance fund that was borrowed against. Mortgage.

    INCOME: Real estate job, substitute teaching, retirement account, trust account.

    WEB SITE: http://www.lucileocasey.com

    * * *

    Frank Hibbard

    AGE: 33

    BACKGROUND: Born in Illinois. Moved to Clearwater with his family about 22 years ago. Received bachelor's degrees in business and in economics, and a master's degree in business administration from Florida State University. Works as an investment officer for Huntington Banks. He has served on the boards of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and FSU's Jim Moran Institute for Entrepreneurial Study. Member of the Clearwater East Rotary Club, has taught Sunday school at Calvary Baptist Church and volunteered for the United Way of Pinellas County. Completed the Leadership Pinellas program and worked on electoral campaigns for Ed Hooper and Mike Bilirakis. Hibbard and his wife, Teresa, have two children ages 11 and 14.

    HOBBIES: Golf, college football, boating, tennis and reading.

    TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "Regaining the trust of the citizens would be No. 1. Before we can go forward on anything, they need to know we're doing our homework and we're going to make wise decisions. Once we have a buy-in from the people it will be easier to get things accomplished."

    ASSETS: Home at 308 Druid Road.

    LIABILITIES: Mortgage.

    INCOME: Bank job, wife's job at United Way, investment portfolio.

    WEB SITE: http://www.hibbardforclearwater.com

    * * *

    Bill Jonson

    AGE: 56

    BACKGROUND: Born in Wisconsin. Has bachelor's degree in business administration from Drake University. Worked as an accountant, systems analyst and project manager with Honeywell International for 29 years before taking early retirement recently. Has been an officer in his Northridge Homeowners Association, led the Coalition of Clearwater Homeowners Associations and been involved with multiple other civic groups. Spearheaded a citizens petition drive to fight billboard clutter. Founder and president of Citizens for a Scenic Florida, which works on highway beautification statewide, and is an officer with a group called Scenic America. Has served on the city's Environmental Advisory Board and Countryside High School's school advisory council. Jonson, a widower, is now engaged. He has two grown children.

    HOBBIES: Activism, reading and Florida Orchestra concerts.

    TOP PRIORITY IF ELECTED: "To make sure that basic services are delivered. And there is also a priority to improve the process. We haven't been looking at long-range financial plans. I think my background as an accountant and internal auditor uniquely qualifies me for this role."

    ASSETS: Home at 2694 Redford Court W

    LIABILITIES: None listed.

    INCOME: Honeywell retirement income, investments, and certificates of deposit.

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