A Times Editorial
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000
Crystal River is changing every day. New businesses are popping up. Homes are being built. More and more tourists are arriving to share the natural beauty and wildlife that defines our area.
Even the news down at City Hall is promising.
The council has a capable and professional City Manager in David Sallee, morale is high among all but the most disgruntled of city employees, and the council members, although occasionally dysfunctional, aren't embarrassing residents quite as much as they have for the past decade.
Why the upturn? We believe it's because the makeup of the council is balanced, with a tolerance for differing opinions that has not existed for some time. Although there are still definite factions, they are showing signs of being able to work well together without losing sight of their mission, which is to serve the people who have elected them to office.
The slate of candidates in this year's election has the potential to further that progress, and we encourage voters in the city to carefully consider their choices with an eye toward maintaining the momentum. Following are our recommendations for the two non-partisan council seats and mayor that will be on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.
Incumbent Alex Ilnyckyj is facing a newcomer to the city to retain his seat on the council. Bonnie Taylor moved here in 1997 and is demonstrating a refreshing penchant for independent thinking and flexibility in her campaign. She wants to foster better relations between the council members and the city manager, and vows to scrutinize the budget for possible savings.
Taylor also has been an outspoken proponent of allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand its office on Kings Bay Drive, which is not far from her home. She correctly recognizes that it could be divisive and costly to fight the federal government on this issue, and that the expansion would not create a great deal of extra traffic in the upscale neighborhood.
Taylor's opponent is Ilnyckyj, who is the biggest detriment to his own re-election.
Time after time Ilnyckyj has failed to control his confrontational tendencies in dealing with his political foes. We recognize he is a straight-talker with a passionate personality, but he has shown bad judgment several times by allowing his detractors to goad him into misbehavior. He allows his emotions to get in the way of his tenacity, resulting in a lack of decorum that is simply unacceptable. It erodes his credibility with the public and makes it almost impossible for him to build consensus on the council.
Although we would have liked to see more detail in her platform, we are impressed with Taylor's communication skills and believe she will have a calming influence on the council and do her homework before voting on an issue. Because of that potential, and because the incumbent has become a distraction on the council, she edges out Ilnyckyj for our recommendation in Seat 2.
Paula Wheeler, who is seeking her second term in Seat 4, is one of the most appreciated members of the council. She has been a quick learner and has shown she will not hesitate to stand up for her ideas, or challenge those with whom she disagrees. Unlike Ilnyckyj, Wheeler exhibits an even temperament, and when she disagrees with the majority, she delivers her dissent appropriately and with confidence.
Perhaps her greatest accomplishment in the past two years has been to help the city manager fend off the attacks of current and former council members who are unhappy with his performance. It appears they want to replace Sallee because they cannot control him, and that sort of independence simply doesn't go over in this town. For proof, just ask any of the eight city managers who have resigned or been fired in the past 10 years.
Wheeler has worked very hard behind the scenes to encourage Sallee, who inherited a host of problems when he arrived here two years ago. Employee turnover in key positions, including the finance department, and nagging computer software problems, have been huge challenges. But it appears Sallee has turned the corner on his way to overcoming those obstacles and Wheeler deserves credit for helping him survive it.
On other matters, Wheeler has been the council's lead proponent on initiatives to improve the quality of the rivers and bay. She advocated passing a sign ordinance that will enhance the city's landscapes, and is attuned to the need to safeguard the city's growth management plan. If re-elected, she promises to nurture those priorities.
Wheeler is being challenged by former city manager Russ Kreager. She voted to fire him shortly after she took office because she said he played favorites with the council members.
Kreager's experience gives him first-hand administrative knowledge about how the city operates, but his platform in this race doesn't venture much beyond that. His top priority would be to reroute U.S. 19 traffic through the city, which he fears will become gridlocked with vehicles that exit the Suncoast Parkway in Hernando County and drive north.
Wheeler is the clear choice in this race and we strongly recommend her to Crystal River voters.
This is Ron Kitchen's third try at becoming mayor. He was defeated in 1994 and again in 1998 by Curtis Rich, who decided not to seek re-election after 10 years in that job. In between Kitchen's losses he was elected to serve one two-year term on the council and then lost a bid for re-election.
That may seem like a spotty record, but voters should be reassured to know that each time Kitchen runs for office, he gets better.
This time around Kitchen is running on a promise to be a facilitator on the council. As mayor he would force council members to stay focused on the business at hand and not stray, as they frequently do, into far-flung discussions that are not on the agenda. He also believes he could help the city manager by insisting that council members be more specific in asking him to carry out their instructions.
Kitchen says his experience as a business owner has taught him how to bring opposing sides together to reach a common goal, and that he can do the same with council members. He recognizes that his greatest challenge will be to insist that council members, staff and the public conduct themselves in a courteous and professional manner during meetings. That may sound like a simple plan to most people, but it is no small feat, especially on this contentious panel.
Kitchen's opponent is Sid Kennedy, who also is a former council member. Kennedy is a polite and well-intentioned man, and as a lifelong resident of the city, his historical perspective is an asset. But he lacks Kitchen's enthusiasm and we question whether Kennedy will be as successful as Kitchen in keeping council members in line and on task.
We recommend Kitchen for mayor of Crystal River.
Candidates not recommended by the Times are invited to respond. The reply should be no more than 250 words and must be received no later than noon Tuesday, Oct. 31. Deliver to 301 W Main St., Inverness, or fax to 860-7320, or e-mail as a text-only file to firstname.lastname@example.org.