Voters will go to the polls today in 12 Pinellas cities to choose a variety of mayors and council members and ponder charter amendments.
In the largest city to hold an election today, the contest for two Clearwater City Council seats is shaping up as a referendum on how the city is run. Four political newcomers who have been critical of the city for various reasons — from budgets cuts that endanger libraries to bureaucracy affecting small businesses — face two experienced candidates.
In Kenneth City, an issue that has been simmering for a year may finally get settled. A charter amendment that could finally give Teresa Zemaitis the mayor's seat she won last March is on the ballot. The amendment would retroactively change the charter to allow public employees other than those who work for the town to serve as mayor. Zemaitis, who has been serving the past year as mayor pro tem, is a public school teacher at Dixie Hollins High School.
Seminole, Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar also have important elections. Tarpon Springs, a city that has relied on its historic charm to drive its identity, will decide a majority of its leadership — three of five City Commission seats. Issues have been construction of a Walmart along the Anclote River, a downtown parcel that could become parking or a park, and economic development. Tarpon voters also will decide nine city charter amendments, including one that would prevent elimination of the fire department.
Seven candidates are vying for the two open seats in Seminole. With only one incumbent in the pack, the city is guaranteed at least one new face on the council. The two top vote-getters will be elected. Seminole also has a slew of charter amendments, one of which would change city elections from March to November.
In Oldsmar, seven people are vying for mayor and two City Council seats — the largest race this town of about 14,000 has seen in nearly a decade. Each candidate thinks he or she is the best person to stimulate business growth and oversee the completion of the city's alternative water supply system, which, at $20 million, is the largest public works project in the city's 97-year history.
A 13th city — St. Pete Beach — is concluding a special mail-in referendum election today to update its community redevelopment plan. Voters have until 7 p.m. to turn in their ballots to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Staff writers Mike Brassfield, Rodney Trash, Demorris A. Lee and Drew Harwell contributed to this report.