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Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District

Four candidates are seeking two seats on this agency's board, created by changes to the former Indian Rocks Fire District.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


The fire district, formerly the Indian Rocks Fire District, serves 12,000 homes and businesses in the towns of Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach, Belleair Shores and a portion of mainland between Ulmerton Road, 94th Avenue N, 131st Street N and the intercoastal waterway.

The fire district's board of commissioners was recently changed to give residents and businesses on the mainland more representation. Board members serve four-year terms and are paid $150 a month. Each of the five board members must live in the areas they represent. Two seats are up for election this year: Seat 1, which represents the town of Indian Shores, and Seat 2, representing Indian Rocks.

Seat 1

Two candidates who have run against each other before in other elections are vying for the Indian Shores seat on the Pinellas Suncoast Fire District board.

The incumbent Indian Shores commissioner, Ed Murphree, is not running for re-election.

Janet Hoppe, 69, was chairwoman for four of the seven years she previously served on the fire district board. She says she is running again to bring a spirit of teamwork to the board. She hopes to help the district find a permanent home for its EMS unit "somewhere in the Redingtons."

The district has experienced several years of political controversy during its unsuccessful effort to continue providing contract fire service to Redington Shores and North Redington Beach.

The district holds a contract with Pinellas County to provide emergency medical service to these towns and Redington Beach. A Pinellas Suncoast EMS unit is now stationed at rented quarters within the Parsley's mobile home park in Redington Shores.

Robert McEwen, 71, who retired earlier this year as mayor of Indian Shores, says he wants to address low morale among the district's firefighters.

"The district needs help. Board meetings have been very disruptive, contributing to driving away the Redingtons. This has hurt our tax base," says McEwen.

Hoppe is a former Indian Shores mayor and commissioner and served on the fire district board for seven years. She was born and raised in Tampa and graduated from Florida State University. She has worked as a reporter and editor as well as in state government. Since moving to Indian Shores in 1965 to operate the family's motel, she has been active in community organizations. She is a widow.

McEwen, who has lived in Indian Shores for 23 years, first served on the town's council in 1987 and was mayor for the past 10 years. He is retired from the Marine Corps and is a Vietnam veteran. He worked for 19 years for the United Media Scripps-Howard Feature Service, retiring as vice president of sales. He has been active in community organizations. McEwen is married and has two children.

Seat 2

Two incumbents on the Pinellas Suncoast Fire District board of commissioners are competing for the same seat to represent Indian Rocks homeowners and businesses.

Ed Piniero, chairman of the fire district board, is contesting the seat held by Bill Ripley. Piniero's seat on the board was eliminated when voters opted to convert Piniero's at-large seat to one that represents mainland residents and businesses.

"I am a people's advocate. I am conservative," says Piniero, who takes pride in the district's debt-free status since 1993. He pledges to continue working to provide quality fire and emergency service.

"If I have any expertise at all, it's in this business," says Ripley, a retired firefighter. He describes the loss of the fire service contract to the Redingtons as unfortunate and believes the district should locate a permanent facility for its Redington Shores-based EMS unit.

Piniero, 59, has served on the fire board since 1992, including three years as chairman and three years as vice chairman. During his tenure, Piniero fought for a state law that preserved the right of referendum on tax increases and other issues for fire district voters. Piniero is a graduate of the RCA Institute of Technology, served in the U.S. Army, and retired from Bull HN after working 24 years as a computer engineer. He is married and has two children.

Ripley, 66, has represented Indian Rocks Beach on the fire board for five years. Ripley worked as a firefighter for 39 years in the Tampa, Hillsborough County and Sarasota fire departments. He retired in 1993 as chief of training for the Hillsborough County department. Ripley received a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida, as well as associate's degrees in firefighting from St. Petersburg Junior College and Hillsborough Community College. He is married and has three children.

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