Tarpon Springs new generation steps up in leadership roles
TARPON SPRINGS — Townsend Tarapani raised his right hand Tuesday night and made a commitment to work for the betterment of the town that helped nurture him.
It was a commitment that's long been implanted into the 25-year-old, who with that oath became one of Tarpon's youngest city commissioners ever. His father, John Tarapani, holds the record for the youngest by a few months — he was also 25 when he was sworn in as a commissioner in 1977.
Townsend Tarapani left Tarpon Springs to go to Auburn University, but afterward, he came back home.
"I knew that I wanted to return to Tarpon Springs and get back active in the community," he said. "I've been active in the community since I was a child. My mom, dad, grandfather were all active. That belief and practice was instilled in me and carried out through the generations for more than a 100 years."
Last month, Tarpon residents elected Tarapani to replace Seat 1 Commissioner Robin Saenger, who couldn't run again because of term limits. Commissioner Susan Slattery also was sworn in Tuesday for a second term in Seat 2.
Tarapani is part of a new generation of young, civic-minded leaders in Tarpon Springs, a community welded to its history of scraping natural sponges from the Gulf of Mexico. Tarapani was the chairman of the city's first Budget Advisory Committee before being elected a commissioner last month.
"I'm very delighted to see some of these young people step forward and get involved in the community," said Commissioner Chris Alahouzos, 60. "They are the future of our city, and we need to have them involved now. To see the leadership that they have displayed so far is going to be very beneficial to Tarpon Springs because they are the future of our city."
According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau figures, there are 23,313 residents in Tarpon. Of that number, 2,868 are between the ages of 20 and 34.
David Banther, 28, moved back to Tarpon after attending college in Michigan. He now works with his father in the family's management consultant firm on Tarpon's Orange Street. Banther, who has a 9-month-old daughter, is a member of the city's Historic Preservation Board and is the local Rotary Club treasurer.
Banther said he has always been involved. At 10 or 11 years old, he would call and question candidates for local office. He then decided which candidate he would stand and hold signs for during the campaign.
Sometimes, when young people are on city boards, there can be some push back from the older members, Banther said.
"In life, you win people over by your positive actions and your contribution," he said. "They eventually say, 'He might be this age, but he carries himself well.' So I've never had too much opposition."
Jacob Karr, 25, graduated from Tarpon High and the University of South Florida. He has been an alternate on the city's Historic Preservation Board and is a member of the First United Methodist Church's staff/parish relations council. He, too, thinks it's important to have young voices as a part of the conversation when discussing the city's direction.
"It's part of our future," Karr said. "You have diversity on who's looking at what's being voted on."
Areti Tsitsakis, 30, graduated from Tarpon High, left the area for a while but moved back in May 2009. A local attorney, Tsitsakis is on the planning committee for the Peter T. Assimack Memorial Fishing Tournament, which will be April 30. The proceeds provide scholarships for Tarpon Springs High students.
"This is a way to help give the students the same opportunity that I had," Tsitsakis said of working on the planning committee. "I got the Tarpon Springs Rotary scholarship when I was in high school. It's kind of nice to give back the way I was rewarded."
Being in Tarpon has other advantages, Tsitsakis said.
"It's close to a metropolitan area, so you get the best of both worlds," Tsitsakis said. "A small community feel, where everyone knows everyone. … It's really great to join a community that you already have a connection to."
Tuesday, Tarapani took his seat on the dais and made his first comments as a commissioner.
"I am young but not so naive that I believe we will all agree on every issue that comes before us," he said, reading from prepared remarks. "But I pledge to you tonight that my votes will be cast and measured against one thing only: Is this the right thing to do for Tarpon Springs?"