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District 7 Pinellas County Commission

Republican Brent Fisher and Democrat Ken Welch have faced off in an overwhelmingly grass-roots campaign.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


Two men with a history of community involvement have been pounding the pavement extra hard over the past few months, each hoping that voters will hand him the District 7 County Commission seat.

Republican Brent Fisher, a mortgage banker, has been involved in several neighborhood groups for the past decade and helps organize a community effort to put computers in the hands of people who cannot afford to buy them.

Democrat Ken Welch, an accountant with Florida Power Corp., also serves on the boards of several community organizations, most notably that of St. Petersburg Junior College.

Neither man has held political office before, but both say they are eager to bring a south county perspective to the County Commission. Their district encompasses the south half of St. Petersburg as well as Gulfport, South Pasadena and Kenneth City.

While minority voters do not make up the majority in any of the County Commission districts, District 7 was created, in part, to provide the greatest opportunity for minority influence. African-Americans make up 21 percent of the voters here, compared with 8 percent countywide.

Race has not been an issue in either man's overwhelmingly grass-roots campaign. In fact, they share several priorities: fixing the county's traffic ills, finding alternative sources of drinking water and preserving green space.

Welch emphasizes his business experience and knowledge of technology -- he designed his own campaign Web site.

He compares his responsibilities on the St. Petersburg Junior College Board of Trustees to those of the County Commission: Both are countywide boards that work closely with a chief administrator.

Welch said economic development is a key issue for him.

"It's not just job creation. There are plenty of jobs out there," Welch said. "It's getting the right skills to people who need them."

Fisher insists that the county can tighten its $1.5-billion budget enough to lower taxes or at the very least not raise them. He opposes the proposed 6 percent tax on the electric bills of unincorporated residents, which Welch supports, that would provide countywide street lighting.

Fisher wants the District 7 commissioner to have an office in the south end of the county so that constituents do not have to drive all the way to the Court Street offices in Clearwater to meet with their elected official.

With four of the seven members elected from single-member districts, this is the first time that the commission will not be made entirely of members elected countywide. Fisher said the board still needs to focus on working together for the betterment of the entire county.

"We have to live and work and play together and maintain the beauty of the county," he said. "I want to make sure the entire county improves, and that we don't become fractioned."

THE JOB

The single-member District 7 county commissioner will serve a four-year term. This commissioner is elected by residents of the district, which covers Kenneth City, South Pasadena, Gulfport and the south half of St. Petersburg. A map of County Commission districts appears on Page 21. Commissioners earn $74,249 a year.

REPUBLICAN

BRENT FISHER, 49, is a mortgage loan officer and insurance agent who has lived in Pinellas Point for 12 years. He has been active in the Council of Neighborhoods and Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association for most of that time. He has worked closely with a program called Computers for the Community, which upgrades donated computers and gives them to residents and nonprofit organizations, who then teach others how to use them. He has a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Florida State University. He is married and has a 10-year-old son. ASSETS: home, cars, stocks, savings account. LIABILITIES: mortgage, home improvement and car loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: mortgage banking job and small insurance business. WEB SITE: http://www.brentfisher.com.

DEMOCRAT

KEN WELCH, 36, is a senior accountant at Florida Power Corp. and a St. Petersburg native. He serves on the St. Petersburg Junior College District Board of Trustees and the Community Alliance Housing & Urban Development Committee, and is chairman of the strategic planning committee for the St. Petersburg Boys & Girls Club Board of Managers. His father, David Welch, served on the St. Petersburg City Council for 12 years, and Welch himself ran unsuccessfully for School Board in 1998 as a Republican. Welch earned his bachelor's degree in accounting at the University of South Florida and a master's degree in finance at Florida A&M University. He is married and has a daughter. ASSETS: mutual funds. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: Florida Power Corp. and Welch Accounting, the family business. WEB SITE: http://www. welch2000.org.

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