PINELLAS PARK — After two unopposed runs for mayor, Sandra Bradbury faces opposition this year from a former longtime city employee.
Keith V. Sabiel, who worked in public works for 40 years, is running against Bradbury to shake what he feels is a status quo problem that has led to elected officials looking out for themselves rather than their constituents. But Bradbury, who served as a council member for 10 years before becoming mayor in 2012, is pointing to her experience and track record as reasons for her to continue leading the city.
Both candidates are longtime city residents who graduated from local high schools, Sabiel from Dixie Hollins and Bradbury from Pinellas Park. Bradbury, 51, has a two-year degree in business from St. Petersburg College and works as an officer manager for an engineering firm. Sabiel, 60, has several state and professional certifications pertaining to drinking water and is retired. He made an unsuccessful run for council in 2014.
The two agree that Pinellas Park should remain an affordable and dynamic community open to new businesses and redevelopment. What they differ on is how to get there.
One of the most prominent redevelopment spots is in the 5600 block of Park Boulevard, part of the city's redevelopment area. The city bought and built several properties there with the intention to turn them over to new businesses for low rent. Bradbury said she has been proud of the results: low crime, high property values and an unexpected emergence of an arts district that she believes will bring more people into the city.
Eventually, she said she hopes the business owners will have enough money to purchase the buildings they're in or that the area will catch the eye of an investor.
"Sometimes, that takes time," she said. "Once word gets out and people start coming there on a regular basis, I believe investors will be interested in it."
But Sabiel said he took issue with the city playing landlord with what he feels was little planning dedicated to the acquisition of properties. Instead, he thinks there are more productive ways to help emerging businesses that don't hold the city liable for millions of dollars worth of property, such as a designated city employee to provide them with guidance and resources to help them be successful.
"Private enterprise can do it better than the city," he said. "They have feelers out there knowing which companies could come in."
Sabiel attributes the block's development to the decision of a council that has been in office for too long to know what residents want. One of his goals is to establish two-term limits for the mayor and council members, three of whom have served for more than 10 years and two of whom were put into office unopposed this election cycle.
While experience is important, he said he developed strong relationships with city officials during his time working in the public works department until he retired in 2014. A review of his personnel file shows positive evaluations and no disciplinary action other than a few for tardiness.
"I think I'm very good at bringing people together to solve problems," he said, adding that he would be able to devote all of his time to the job because he's retired.
Bradbury said she is aware that she has a reputation of being unavailable as mayor, but she emphasized that her work hours are flexible and allow her to meet with residents and attend city events. When it comes to term limits, Bradbury, whose mayoral salary is about $21,000, said she thinks time spent in office is invaluable and that changing the charter to accommodate limits is a long and tedious process.
"The electorate, our citizens, have voted me in twice to City Council, a third term which I resigned from to be mayor," she said. "You gain experience by being in office."
Both candidates pointed to smaller ideas to improve the city. Bradbury wants to create community gardens and parks around retention ponds, such as Pond Park behind Cheddar's, which has a playground, sidewalk and picnic area for nearby residents. Sabiel wants to add more handicapped accessible playground equipment to city parks, create a recreation facility for adults and update the city's senior center with more computer labs and larger meeting spaces.
Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected]. Follow @kathrynvarn.