INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — After 18 years on the City Commission, the last 10 of them as mayor, R.B. Johnson has decided he has had enough and will not be running in the March 13 election.
City Commissioner Cookie Kennedy and longtime resident Donald House qualified to run for mayor. Incumbent Commissioner Ed Hoofnagle qualified to run again for his seat. Newcomers to City Commission races are Jude Bond and Nick Palomba.
"I think 10 years is probably good enough," Johnson said. "I accomplished most of the things I wanted to do."
Johnson said when he first became mayor the city was in a state of upheaval with various factions at odds with one another. He set out to change that and said things have calmed down considerably.
"The city has been pretty calm politically for a while now and that is a good thing. I don’t see it changing anytime in the near future," he said. "We found a way to take care of business without being vitriolic or treating each other badly."
Johnson said he is particularly proud of getting the money to put the utilities along Gulf Boulevard underground.
"The undergrounding is set to go for the south end of Gulf Boulevard in Indian Rocks Beach and with the reinstatement of the Penny for Pinellas I’m confident we’ll be able to finish the undergrounding all along Gulf Boulevard," he said.
Other projects Johnson said he is proud of include the renovation of City Hall, the installation of the floating docks at Keegan Clair Park, the completion of the makeover of the Walsingham and Gulf Boulevard intersection and the soon-to-be constructed community center on the site of the former solid waste facility in the Narrows.
Johnson, 56, recently got married. He said that did not play into his decision to step down. He said he has some unfinished personal business to take care of including some writing, helping to get his late father’s book on small arms design published and improving some family property.
"I’ll have plenty to keep myself involved," he said.
Kennedy, 57, says she decided to run for mayor some time ago. She has been on the City Commission for nine years.
"I know the strengths in IRB and I want to work together with the people to find solutions to the things we don’t like," she said. "I work well with the commissioners and I think we have a lot to offer in the future."
Kennedy discovered she would have an opponent at the last minute.
"You have to expect to have an opponent anytime you run for office," she said.
House said he decided to run because he doesn’t think Kennedy has the leadership skills necessary.
"There are a couple of issues that are going to be very important for the city in the next couple of years," he said. "Beach renourishment is one of them, and I don’t think the leadership is there to solve that problem."
"Ninety-five percent of what the commission does is okay,’’ he said, "but the other five percent is critical."
House, 66, said his family home has been in IRB for 20 years. He said he made it his permanent residence in 2000.
The Kennedy/House race won’t be the only one. There are three candidates for two commission openings.
Incumbent Ed Hoofnagle, 49, is one of those candidates. He said he is running again because of unfinished business.
"I really think it takes a while to figure out how things work at City Hall," he said. "My experience will help get things done. Short-term rentals will always be on the front burner, and development is sure to come up over the next few years."
One of his opponents will be Bond, who has served Planning and Zoning Board. He owns his own marketing consultant firm.
"I’m interested in development in IRB," he said. "There is a lot of undeveloped land, and I have an interest in how that land will be developed and the effect it will have on the community."
The other candidate, Palomba, 48, works for Microsoft and helps provide technology to various forms of government.
He said he and his wife have had a long love affair with the city even before they moved there.
"I want to keep IRB with the same feel and touch as it was when we first met," he said. "I just want to bring new and fresh ideas, ideas that I have seen in my job going around the country and around the world."
Whoever wins the two seats will be joining incumbents Phil Hanna and Phil Wrobel. Their seats were not up for election next year. Commissioners serve two-year terms.