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Seat 4 Crystal River City Council

Former City Manager Russell Kreager is challenging Paula Wheeler - one of the council members responsible for his departure.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


The race for Crystal River City Council Seat 4 has built-in drama.

The contest pits incumbent Paula Wheeler against former City Manager Russell Kreager, who lost his job because of Wheeler and two of her political allies. In February 1999, she joined forces with council member Alex Ilnyckyj and former council member Richard Brady to oust Kreager after eight months in the job.

Supporters have portrayed Kreager as an innocent victim of abuse by his political enemies. But since the controversy, he has struggled personally.

He lost his position as administrator for the Village of Fairport, Ohio, last year when a new mayor decided to clean house. After a short, unsuccessful stint as a car salesman, he resigned recently from Crystal Chevrolet. Earlier this year, he fought back city efforts to recoup more than $7,000 in unemployment benefits that administrators said he had no right to claim.

Now jobless, he is running for an office that pays just over $5,000 a year. The move has nothing to do with political payback, he said.

"I've been part of the planning of the city for eight years and I'm not going to walk away from it," said Kreager, who spent six years as public works director before becoming city manager.

If he were bitter, he said he would have sued for more money. Under the $23,000 settlement with the city, he estimates he received about $9,000, with a large chunk going to his attorney.

"I'm going to run a clean campaign," he said in reference to Wheeler. "I hope she does the same."

Wheeler promised to avoid the negative. "It's not going to get dirty from me," she said.

Programs that got started under his watch are now coming to fruition, Kreager said.

One of them is the $600,000 state grant that was used to remodel NW Third Street and finance new business facades on Citrus Avenue.

He also helped obtain grant money for the $370,000 Kings Bay dredging project. While acknowledging its mixed success, he said the project pointed Crystal River in the right direction on environmental issues, he said.

Any privatization of the city's sanitation operations would be wrong, he said.

Wheeler said she wants to address unfinished business, such as sidewalk construction and completion of central sewer projects that will tie in new businesses and hundreds of homes over the next several years.

Among her accomplishments since getting elected in 1998, she counts her role in hiring City Manager David Sallee and encouraging administrative stability at city hall by supporting his choices for department managers.

In addition, she said her support for a traffic light at Turkey Oak Drive and U.S. 19 helped persuade the state Department of Transportation to drop its opposition.

"There's many projects I'd like to see complete," she said.

THE JOB

City Council members set policies for city staff, which handles the day-to-day running of local government. They vote on ordinances and the annual budget, which finances city operations. Members earn $5,428 annually.

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RUSSELL KREAGER, 51, was born and raised in Ohio. He majored in education at Ohio State University. He has spent most of his adult life in the public sector, including four years as an appointed council member in the Village of Utica, Ohio. He served six years as Crystal River's public works director and another eight months as city manager. He is married with three children. ASSETS: home. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: none. E-MAIL: russk@hitter.net

* * *

PAULA WHEELER, 48, was born and raised in Massachusetts. Wheeler took business management courses at Quinsigamond Community College in Massachusetts without graduating. She sold sales marketing consulting services to large companies before helping pitch her husband's software consulting business. She is married with two children. ASSETS: business, property and rentals. LIABILITIES: house mortgage and personal loan on business. SOURCE OF INCOME: business and property.

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