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Largo City Commissioner Murray wins unopposed; Black faces challenger

LARGO — There was no party, no popping of champagne corks or cutting of a cake, but Vice Mayor Robert Murray does have a reason to celebrate this week — he won a second term on the City Commission.

Murray's victory was official at close of business Monday, the last day candidates could submit paperwork at City Hall to qualify to run for Seats 1 or 2 on the commission. Election Day is Nov. 8.

While the incumbent Murray emerged from the two-week qualifying period unopposed, earning another three years at Seat 2, Commissioner Mary Gray Black will face challenger Michael Smith, a librarian less than half Black's age.

Black, 72, has held Seat 1 since 2005, and also served stints on the commission in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Smith, 30, is a Largo native and senior library assistant at Pinellas Park Public Library.

Black touts her experience and knowledge of the city's charter, which she says city management regularly ignores. She says she speaks for the people who elected her when she questions city management's fiscal decisions, like the recommended 2012 budget that calls for adopting the rollback rate.

The rollback rate is the tax rate that generates the same amount of tax revenue for the city after accounting for changing property values and new construction. In Largo, in 2012, that means increasing the tax rate from about 4.31 mills to about 4.56 mills; something which Black strongly opposes.

Smith, who also worked at Seminole Library and served on Largo's Historical Preservation Advisory Committee, said he's been researching for two years which seat on Largo's commission to run for. He picked Black's seat, he said, because she's the commissioner he disagrees with the most.

"The questions she asks (at commission meetings); she doesn't sound like someone who's prepped to be there," Smith said. "It doesn't sound like she does her homework."

Black took issue with that claim.

"I was elected by more than 60 percent of the vote. Apparently the people felt that I was doing a good job, and I was representing the people," she said. "I think if he attended more meetings he would realize that I certainly do my homework."

City commissioners earn an annual salary of $13,125.46. Murray and the winner of the Black-Smith contest will be the last Largo commissioners to serve three-year terms. Voters approved a 2010 referendum lengthening terms for Largo city commissioners to four years.

In a confusing quirk, Murray and the Seat 1 winner will serve three-year terms even though Commissioners Harriet Crozier and Woody Brown, both elected last year, are serving four-year terms. The three-year terms are being kept this year to eliminate odd-year elections in the future. In 2012, three commission seats will be up for election, while the other four will come up in 2014.

Murray, meanwhile, won't have to worry about a campaign. He was a bit surprised to not draw an opponent, given the anti-incumbent vibe that has been popular nationwide of late.

Murray, 57, said this will probably be his last term. He teaches aviation maintenance at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and cited the time commitment as a reason for wanting this term to be his last.

His three years on the commission have been marked by dropping property values and budget-cutting. While Murray hopes the economy turns around during his next term, he said the experience he's acquired in office will help him work toward his goal of maintaining city services in tight budgetary times.

"I think people have become accustomed to the quality of life in Largo, and I'm a firm believer in maintaining that," he said.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Largo City Commissioner Murray wins unopposed; Black faces challenger 08/16/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 5:21pm]
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