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District 4 seat draws newcomers to politics

The contest for the commission seat involves them in the debate over the City Hall building.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001


ST. PETE BEACH -- Two candidates -- one a businesswoman who hopes to bring her concern for the entire city to the commission, the other a community activist who wants to give District 4 a louder voice -- are vying to represent Pass-a-Grille and Vina del Mar. The election is Tuesday. Both Sherry Travis, 42, and Laura "Lolly" Kreider, 48, are newcomers to politics. Commissioner Rachel Crepeau's decision not to run for a second two-year term left the District 4 seat open for new candidates.

Augie D'Alessio, who has long been active in his Vina del Mar neighborhood and ran against Crepeau two years ago, backed out of the race last month, leaving the two newcomers to battle for the seat.

The candidates will be featured tonight at a 7:30 p.m. forum at City Hall.

Travis, who along with her husband owns and manages several rental apartments in St. Pete Beach, points to her business experience as the strongest asset she can bring to the city. She said she is accustomed to comparing costs and making decisions about value.

"Being self-employed, I'm trained to look for the best use of the dollar," Travis said. "Your funds are precious."

One issue where Travis would apply such skills is in deciding where to house St. Pete Beach's employees. The city has been struggling for years to decide the fate of its aging and ailing City Hall.

St. Pete Beach spent most of last year working on a deal in which a local developer would donate Corey Avenue land in exchange for the right to build the municipal headquarters there, but questions about the unusual deal and the building's cost delayed the project and eventually led the developer to pull out of the plan.

Travis said she is unsure which would be better -- a new building or remodeling the existing City Hall. But something needs to be done quickly, she said.

"We need to provide the employees with a good working environment in order to attract quality employees in the future and keep the quality employees we have," Travis said.

She said she does not favor waiting until St. Pete Beach has completed a master plan for the entire city before making a decision about city hall. Time is too valuable for that, she said.

"The city hall decision doesn't need to be delayed or prolonged any longer," said Travis, who said she also was "not strongly behind" the Corey Avenue site.

Travis, who owns $4-million in St. Pete Beach real estate, including properties in three of the four city districts, said she also wants to preserve the historic character of Pass-a-Grille and keep business districts from creeping into residential neighborhoods.

"Commercial encroachment needs to be curtailed in residential areas," Travis said.

Travis first purchased a Pass-a-Grille condominium in 1991 and moved here permanently in 1993, shortly after buying a home in Vina del Mar, though records reflect that she did not register to vote in Pinellas County until 1998.

In explaining her short voting history in Pinellas, Travis said her husband was under a 10-year contract in Michigan that required legal residency there until 1998. They continue to own one rental property there, as well as several small apartment buildings in St. Pete Beach.

Travis and Kreider have run extensive door-to-door campaigns, and both said one issue Vina del Mar residents consistently have mentioned is the speeding traffic on Vina del Mar Boulevard. Both said they would support more of a police presence along the street.

Kreider said she also favors giving St. Pete Beach employees a better working environment. She wants to see City Hall remain on its current property but also hopes the site has enough space for a waterfront park. "I think it's a big enough property that it can be used for an improved city hall, plus real green space," Kreider said.

When the Corey Avenue deal fell through, Kreider said, it gave the city "a new opportunity to evaluate our options." She supports the city designing a master plan for the entire city right away, but thinks a decision can be made on city hall before the final document is completed.

"That shouldn't take so long that you can't start on a city hall project," Kreider said.

Kreider, a former teacher at the Montessori School in Pass-a-Grille, said she also is concerned about seeing that District 4 receives its share of capital improvement projects. She wants to expand the Pass-a-Grille historic district to include the whole neighborhood but would resist efforts to enact mandatory rules for property owners.

"Part of the charm of Pass-a-Grille is its strong-willed people," Kreider said. "People don't want to be told what to do."

Travis said she also is concerned about the historic district and first decided to run because she was worried how the area was being developed.

"I've been amazed by the proliferation of structures that take away from what makes this special," Travis said.

The job

The District 4 city commissioner represents the neighborhoods of Vina del Mar and Pass-a-Grille. The commissioner receives $400 per month with a $50 expense allowance.

SHERRY MAY TRAVIS, 42, was born in Pontiac, Mich. She graduated from Fenton (Mich.) High School and later took classes at Baker College in Flint, Mich. Travis first purchased property in St. Pete Beach 10 years ago and moved here permanently in 1993. For the past 15 years, Travis has owned and managed several rental properties in St. Pete Beach as well as one in Michigan. Prior to entering the rental property business, she was a stay-at-home mom. Since November she has been a member of the Vina del Mar Island Association, the Friends of Gulf Beaches Historical Museum and the Pass-a-Grille Community Association. She is married and has one daughter.

ASSETS: Home in Vina del Mar, condominium in Pass-a-Grille, apartment buildings in St. Pete Beach and Michigan.

LIABILITIES: Mortgages on home and rental properties.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Income from rental properties and from husband's company.

* * *

LAURA "LOLLY" GREENE KREIDER, 48, was born in Nassau County, N.Y., and moved to St. Petersburg when she was 7 years old. She graduated from St. Petersburg High School and St. Petersburg Junior College, where she received an associate's degree. She also received a bachelor's degree in art education from Florida State University. Kreider lived in the Northeast for several years before settling in Pass-a-Grille 17 years ago. She taught at the Montessori School from 1985 to 1994 and at its predecessor, the Happy Time Pre-School, from 1983 to 1985. She has been a member of the Pass-a-Grille Community Association since 1991 and on its board of directors since 1993. She is also a past president of the community association. Kreider joined the Pass-a-Grille Woman's Club in 1996 and its board in 1997. Kreider also has been a member of the St. Pete Beach Planning and Zoning Board for two years and is a volunteer at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum. She is married and has two stepdaughters.

ASSETS: Home.

LIABILITIES: None listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Interest income (specifics not available).

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