A Times Editorial
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000
Voters will invigorate the Pasco County Commission with a much-needed double dose of new blood when they head to the polls Nov. 7. Commissioner Sylvia Young is retiring after 20 years serving District 1 and two-term Commissioner David "Hap" Clark Jr. is leaving his District 5 seat after an unsuccessful run for tax collector in the September primary.
The challenges are numerous. The commission is confronting a potential legal objection to its just-finished update of the comprehensive land-use plan from development interests. It must work to develop new regional water sources, expand its east-west road network, grow its tax base beyond traditional residential development, and find ways to help pay for future law enforcement, emergency services, education and recreational facilities demanded by a growing population.
In essence, commissioners, who must reside in their district but are elected countywide, are charged with governing the quality of life in Pasco County. Toward that end we think the strongest candidates in the two commission races are Ted Schrader in District 1 and Peter Altman in District 5, both of whom are experienced in municipal government. They are better prepared to confront the tasks ahead and will elevate the commission's level of debate on public policy issues.
Republican Ted Schrader of San Antonio is making his second run for this seat, having lost to Young in 1996. His experience is plentiful. He served six years on the San Antonio City Commission, was on the board of supervisors of the Pasco County Soil and Water Conservation District and was appointed to the Partners for Better Florida Advisory Council. He is president of the Pasco County Farm Bureau Board and is chairman of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation's state water advisory committee.
A citrus grower and Realtor, his family has deep roots in east Pasco and a tradition of public service. His grandfather was a county commissioner and was instrumental in obtaining the right of way for State Road 52 in west Pasco, a road which bears his name -- Schrader Memorial Highway. The Schrader family donated land for St. Michael Church and for Schrader Elementary School in Bayonet Point.
Schrader has the intellect, desire, and people skills to be an effective commissioner. But, we disagree with a key plank of his platform to lobby the state for additional revenues through changes to the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions or by allowing local governments to collect the sixth cent of the state sales tax. Young frequently used Tallahassee as a scapegoat for her own failure to confront difficult decisions. Schrader shouldn't do likewise, particularly when commissioners already have the opportunity to collect additional sales tax if Schrader truly thinks that is the most equitable way to increase county revenues.
We also must restate our reservations about the 1997 transaction in which the Schrader family obtained a tract of land south of State Road 52 and four days later sold the development rights to the Southwest Florida Water Management District for almost exactly the same price. It meant a nearly 800-acre preserve for the family for just a few thousand dollars. Afterward, the water district changed its procedures to require disclosure of pending sales contracts in future transactions. It is a safeguard to help ensure the public gets the best possible benefit.
If elected, Schrader wants to expand conservation programs in Pasco. We trust he will work to ensure public interests are the first priority.
Despite those shortcomings, Schrader's government experience makes him the preferable choice in this race. His opponent, Democrat Charlotte Kiefer, states she is a quick learner, but less than three weeks before the election, her grasp on the issues is just as limited as it was at the outset of the campaign.
Her platform is filled with contradictions. She advocates improved roads, more effective law enforcement, better education and recreation programs, but then champions less taxes and less government.
She wisely supports construction of the Ridge Road Extension and impact fees to better prepare Pasco County for growth, but offers no economic development ideas other than emphasizing commercial growth over residential.
She acknowledges Schrader has the edge in experience, but she promises to be a quick study. There is no need for on-the-job training. The Times recommends Ted Schrader.
The differences between Democrat Peter Altman and Republican Jack Armstrong in the race for the District 5 seat are best exemplified by their notions of future economic development in Pasco County.
Altman, who served a dozen years in New Port Richey as mayor and council member, wants to be the County Commission's point person on the Economic Development Council. He wants to work aggressively to recruit new industry, but at the same time he is cognizant of the potential deterioration of the aging residential tax base in west Pasco. Through tax incentives, he wants to boost redevelopment of the areas that boomed in the 1960s and '70s.
The idea from Armstrong, a Pasco sheriff's sergeant, is not as far reaching. "We need another mall," he says. Such a simplistic approach does broaden the tax base, but it also expands the low-wage retail job market that dominates Pasco County already. (The county ranks 314 of 318 metropolitan areas nationally in average annually earnings for workers, according to an August report by economist Bill Fruth, because of its reliance on service industry employment.)
It is indicative of many of Armstrong's positions -- pleasant, but shallow. Promising to boost county code compliance, but holding the line on taxes won't offend anybody, but also doesn't articulate much of a vision for the county's future.
Armstrong is not without positive attributes. He is personable, well educated -- holding a master's degree in public administration -- and his 18-month effort to build support across the county shows determination and hard work. It is an impressive effort for a political neophyte who had to withstand charges of disloyalty from within his own party.
But Altman's legacy extends beyond the political arena and began more than 18 months ago. Other candidates talk about land preservation, redevelopment, expanded recreational opportunities, neighborhood improvements and protecting water sources, but Altman can point to those as accomplishments, not promises.
In Pasco's largest city, he championed a revitalized downtown, which now sports millions of dollars worth of sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping improvements to its streets. Sims Park is home to a new amphitheater and riverwalk. His persistence in preserving 80 acres of land after city voters rejected a $700,000 purchase price in 1990, resulted in significant grant money to lower the cost to the city to $119,000 and New Port Richey now owns the James E. Grey Preserve. Likewise, the city is moving forward with neighborhood improvements that began during Altman's tenure. And, as a non-voting member of the former West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, Altman lobbied for New Port Richey to be treated as an equal partner. The agreement creating Tampa Bay Water in 1998 did just that, giving the city voting status on the revamped nine-member board.
Altman certainly had a misstep or two during his 12 years as an elected official in New Port Richey, and his tardy property tax payment this year showed a misplaced priority, but any shortcomings are dwarfed by his impressive record of public service.
In New Port Richey, he demonstrated a strong ability to articulate a vision and build a bipartisan consensus toward achieving it. It is an attribute that's been missing from the District 5 County Commission seat for eight years. It needs to return.
The Times strongly recommends voters elect Peter Altman to the Pasco County Commission.
The Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates should send in their replies no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday to: C.T. Bowen, Pasco, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL, 34668. (E-mail: email@example.com; Fax: 727-869-6233). Replies are limited to 250 words.