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District 4 candidates spar over experience

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE and LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The candidates for City Council District 4 promise experience and leadership. They talk equally of their concern for residents -- north and south of Central Avenue -- and of restoring civility to the City Council.

Chris Eaton and Virginia Littrell also hold similar opinions about the central campaign issues of economic development and water. In truth, their only significant difference is over who is best prepared for the job.

Littrell, the only woman running for City Council, speaks of solutions that reflect her civic activities at city and state levels. Eaton, who has no experience working in city government, emphasizes his willingness to listen to new ideas.

The chairwoman of both the city's Planning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission, Littrell has made experience a key issue in the race for the district that covers part of downtown and neighborhoods to the north, including North Shore.

"Now is not the time to train a new person," she said recently.

Eaton, 43, a St. Petersburg resident for 26 years, bristles at such assertions.

"That's a claim you can make against people who run for Senate, mayor, president," Eaton said. "I have a proven track record of leadership. Serving on commissions is honorable, but being an elected representative is different from sitting on a board. I rally people around a common concern and get them to work on a solution. That's about leadership."

At a recent forum, Eaton criticized Littrell's ties to St. Petersburg's establishment. He portrayed Littrell, a St. Petersburg native whose grandfather Robert Carroll Purvis was elected to the City Council in 1924, as a member of the city's aristocracy.

"He identified me as a past president of the Junior League. I am very proud of that. . . . It is not an elitist activity," said Littrell, 50, who has drawn the support of Margo Fischer, former state legislator and wife of the city's outgoing mayor.

Economic development

Littrell believes St. Petersburg is hindered by the city's muddled and inconsistently interpreted permitting regulations.

"In the commercial districts, we have this reputation that is known far and wide as being difficult to get permits from," she said.

Steps already are being taken to solve the problem, Littrell said, pointing to the Vision 2020 forums, a series of public discussions that will decide what St. Petersburg should look like 20 years from now.

"That process will necessarily include the comprehensive land use plan, the zoning code and the land development regulations," Littrell added, pledging to make sure changes are implemented if she is elected to the City Council.

Eaton is the owner and president of Bridge Builders Inc., a for-profit consulting company specializing in humanitarian work in developing countries. He describes himself as "a small business owner," and is a "huge advocate of small business."

Though Eaton advocates economic development, he believes that the city must consider the impact of such development on public safety and traffic.

Eaton added that his work in developing countries has armed him with the perspective needed to deal with economic challenges in poor neighborhoods.

"A fundamental principle of development is you must have training first. If you dump money in without it, it won't work," he said.

Water

Additionally, "I do believe that we need to work regionally within Tampa Bay Water," she said. "I do believe that we need to be very cognizant of growth management laws that are happening this legislative session in Tallahassee, because those changes will greatly impact the region, primarily with regard to development.

The city can pursue both economic development and water conservation, she said. "It's not either or, but both. It's a case-by-case decision," she said.

Eaton said he and Littrell agree on the water issue.

"I would encourage the efforts of Tampa Bay Water to comply with new restrictions," he said. "I agree that one of the ways to control water issues is to use economics. If you use more, you pay more, and that may be on an escalating scale. Then you invest those dollars in the infrastructure."

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