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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

2012 elections may halt Dunedin TV show



DUNEDIN -- Upcoming elections have prompted Dunedin commissioners to debate whether to bag the second season of a city-produced television show aimed at putting a human face on City Hall.

Last year's half-hour episodes of 542 Main each featured a one-on-one interview with a member of the Dunedin City Commission, City Manager Rob DiSpirito or former City Attorney John Hubbard. Commissioners fielded identical questions about things like their professional and personal backgrounds; the most difficult and enjoyable parts of their part-time political jobs and what the gig entails; and their outlook on the economy and city finances.

"It was really just getting them off the dais so people could get to know them better," said city spokeswoman Courtney King.

But the looming November 2012 election has thrown a potential monkey wrench into city plans to start airing new 542 Main episodes next month.

Mayor Dave Eggers and Commissioners David Carson and Julie Scales - who are up for re-election next winter - said they won't participate because they don't want it to appear that they're using the show to lobby for votes.

The election is more than a year away, "but the (campaigning) process has already begun," said Eggers, who raised the question during last week's commission meeting. "It's hard enough for non-incumbents to have a chance and you have to give every chance to folks who want to run," he said in an interview after the meeting.

"I feel very uncomfortable," Carson told his colleagues during the meeting. "The perception could be that we're promoting ourselves during the election year and I'm not supporting that. I would prefer to see us postpone it this year."

The discussion has left the show's future in flux.

Scales, for example, said she doesn't like the idea of commissioners ever appearing on the city-run Channel 15 in any capacity.

"We shouldn't be using public resources to promote ourselves because, I don't care how you slice or dice it, we're promoting ourselves," she said. "This is a small town and there's tons of opportunities to see our citizens."

Her colleagues disagreed. They said they support the show's focus on allowing constituents to interact with them and other city staff.

Before each show aired, for example, King said she asked the public to submit inquiries for individual guests via Facebook or e-mail. Questions included one for the city manager about the status of a proposed low-income housing project at Our Lady of Lourdes Church and one for Scales about the Gateway project. Carson, too, said watching the show helped him to learn about his fellow commissioners.

"I don't believe we're self-promoting. We represent the community, and this is a chance to answer questions," Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said. "I think we should be doing that every year - doing these kinds of interactive things with our citizens."

Officials threw out options, including airing the show only during non-election years, bringing on department heads or new City Attorney Tom Trask as alternative guests, and allowing commissioners to decide individually whether to participate this year. Commissioner Ron Barnette suggested a compromise: Skip the show this year and decide on future seasons later. However, no final decisions were made and officials said they would discuss a potential policy early next year.

Eggers said this week that he plans to raise the subject again at the commission's meeting Thursday. He wants to encourage Bujalski and Barnette to participate this year if they want.

"There's no reason why they should not," he said. "If you believe in the program, you should be able to do the program."

[Last modified: Monday, October 31, 2011 1:58pm]


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