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Pinellas Park mayoral candidates take questions as election looms

By Donna Winchester, Times Correspondent
Published: March 7, 2018 Updated: March 7, 2018 at 04:26 PM
Donna Saxer, right, is challenging incumbent Sandra Bradbury in the Pinellas Park mayor's race in Tuesday's election. (Photos courtesy of Sandra Bradbury and Donna Saxer)

PINELLAS PARK ó Voters here have two choices for the cityís next mayor: incumbent Sandra Bradbury, who says the city needs an experienced leader, and challenger Donna Saxer, who says itís time for a change.

Bradbury is running for her fourth term as mayor. Saxer, a retired Pinellas Park police officer, would be a newcomer to the council.

Here are the candidatesí views on issues the city will continue to address over the next two years.

Sandra Bradbury

You are running for your fourth term as mayor. Do you think term limits for city public servants should be employed at a particular point?

I think that experience on City Council is very important. All of our council members, including myself, have volunteered on boards prior to becoming council members. Iíve noticed over the years that people who are newer to the servant community as elected officials have a learning curve. I believe experience is a big help when it comes to serving the community.

Are you satisfied with the cityís current police and fire response time? If so, at what point would staffing need to be addressed?

Staffing is reviewed every year when department heads bring their budgets forward. Not long ago, council member (Rick) Butler asked the police chief in a workshop if we could add five more officers and the chief said yes, so we agreed to do that. The response time of our fire department is excellent, although there are some areas that are a little slower than others. Weíve recently bought a piece of property for a new fire station, which will further reduce response times.

Are you satisfied with the cityís nuisance abatement ordinance and its ability to solve persistent code violations?

Iím always open to new ideas and ways we can improve our ordinances. I believe we have an opportunity to possibly increase the nuisance abatement and I would be happy to work with staff and allow my fellow council members to help me vote on something that would help us do that. Throughout the years Iíve been on the city council weíve adjusted and tweaked existing ordinances. Weíre now in the middle of working with a company to review our ordinances. Itís been about 20 years since weíve done that.

What is your philosophy on expanding the cityís Community Redevelopment Area beyond its current boundaries?

It would be nice for us to be able to expand the boundaries. We would have to go before not just the county, but also Tallahassee. Unfortunately, if we do that, we could lose the community redevelopment area we have now. They could decide that our CRA has reached its potential. Tallahassee is trying to do away with CRAs because there have been a few bad apples in the state, so now they want to get rid of them all. I feel the Community Redevelopment Area is very important. CRAs were created so the cities can concentrate tax dollars on blighted areas to improve them, and thatís what our city council has done.

Do you feel Pinellas Park is a diverse city? What steps do you think city government could take to make it more diverse?

I believe our city is very diverse. Believe it or not, we have a large Asian community. If you walk around at some of our city functions, if you drive through the neighborhoods, youíll see we have citizens from all over the world. We have business owners from all over the world. Iím glad for that because it brings a wonderful mix to the community.

Donna Saxer

Both you and your opponent have spoken about the importance of communication and transparency in local government. Are there any topics that you think are off-limits when it comes to disclosure to the public?

I donít think any issues should be off-limits. I think there could be a lot more transparency in our government in Pinellas Park. One area Iíd like to address is whatís going on with our Community Redevelopment Area. Itís very difficult for anyone to know which projects are slated, what contracts are going out and who is being awarded contracts ó basically how money is being spent. Citizens should be able to go online and easily follow whatís happening with their tax money.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest, how safe would you rate Pinellas Park? Are there any steps the city could take to further ensure citizen safety?

The most important aspect is how safe people perceive they are. What people are telling me is that they donít feel safe in their homes and in our parks. I would have to give safety a 2 based on the shortage of police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Weíve had a significant increase in the number of housing units in the city as well as an increase in traffic. If you look at national averages, our staffing is woefully inadequate. Itís not only unsafe for the citizens, itís unsafe for our officers because understaffing can lead to stress and burnout.

What issues would you like the cityís newly established Leisure Services Department to address?

I hear a lot of complaints from citizens about our parks. Some people feel the parks are unsafe at various times, such as during their lunch breaks. We do have some regulations in place, but the rules arenít being followed. People come to our parks from other counties and they can do whatever they want. We have no idea who they are. Part of the problem is that the parks arenít being staffed on the weekends. We need more accountability, but that wonít happen until we change the way we monitor the parks.

With the proliferation of condos and apartment complexes in and around the city, what are your thoughts on managing traffic flow, especially along the main corridor?

Transportation has been a problem for years, not just in Pinellas Park but also across the state. Our road system has not kept up with population growth. There are no plans on the books at this time to alleviate the traffic problem in the city. One thing we have to do is be more thoughtful with housing plans. We also need to focus on a multimodal transportation system that will serve diverse needs. We need bike lanes, more medians and devices to control traffic flow. Iíd also like to see us become a more walkable community.

How will you ensure that the cityís tax base will increase while continuing to provide housing for lower-income individuals?

For years, weíve received a portion of our funding through a Community Development Block Grant, which funds local community development activities including affordable housing. That funding could only be used in our Community Redevelopment Area. More areas will be able to receive help as of Oct. 1 when the city will become what is known as an entitlement city. We will be able to apply for SHIP (State Housing Initiative Program) funding, which will enable us to steer funding to the most needed areas outside the CRA. We also will be able to use 15 percent of the funding for public services, such as free summer camps for children, funding for Girls Inc. and Vincent House. This will be a big step for assisting low- and middle-income citizens.