Voters in Pinellas Park and Seminole go to the polls Tuesday in elections as different as the cities themselves.
In Seminole, where four candidates are competing for two open seats, the campaign has been much like the city, quiet and understated.
The "big" controversy arose when challenger Patricia Plantamura questioned the propriety of incumbent Bob Matthews' holding his grandson on his lap during a candidates forum. Matthews said he picked up the child from day care, and the 15-month-old refused to sit with anyone else.
Over in Pinellas Park, three seats are up for grabs. The mayor's race may be an easy call. Challenger Jan Macumber has been virtually invisible during most of the campaign while Mayor Bill Mischler has been able to strut his stuff during televised council meetings.
Similarly, in the race for Seat 3, incumbent Rick Butler has had the advantage of televised council meetings while opponent Marshall Cook, a well-known gadfly at those meetings, was hospitalized for most of the campaign.
But perhaps the results aren't a slam dunk. Butler's 2005, 2006 and 2007 property taxes on his office building remain unpaid and he risks losing it to a forced tax sale. As a council member, Butler would help decide the amount of taxes Pinellas Park's landowners must pay.
The race for Seat 4 resembles a mob scene. With no incumbent, six candidates are stampeding to the finish line, dishing on one another's peccadilloes as they go. And issues there are, from criminal charges and convictions to bankruptcies and unpaid property taxes to questions about residency. More on that on Pages 14-15.
Some candidates have accused the city of favoritism because officials have allowed Jerry Mullins to make presentations to civic organizations at the beginning of the televised council meetings.
But the Seat 4 race has a lighter side. Candidate Randy Heine, who appears to enjoy tweaking council members, has frequently tangled with them over the past few years. One of Heine's longstanding complaints is the number of shopping carts cluttering Pinellas Park's streets, and he took the opportunity presented by the campaign to display his sense of mischief and make a point by hanging his campaign signs on the errant carts.
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In Seminole, Matthews and John Counts are incumbents. Trina Watkins served briefly on the council before resigning last year to run for mayor against Jimmy Johnson. Patricia Plantamura, who is making her second run at the council, has no elected experience.
A city-sponsored Meet the Candidates Forum held Thursday can be seen at anytime on the city's Web site www.myseminole.com under Watch Council Meetings. The forum will be televised on Bright House Channel 615 at 7 p.m. today.
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Back in Pinellas Park, the hot race is the contest for Seat 4, being vacated by Patricia Bailey-Snook.
One of Bailey-Snook's last acts before leaving office was to persuade Mary Brennan to run. Brennan has a two-pronged platform: working with the residents and business community to maintain the quality and availability of city services, and encouraging more environmentally friendly city policies, including collection of recycled materials and the use of solar energy.
"The City Council will need to face difficult decisions as it strives to balance the budget and provide property tax relief to home and business owners. My experience in and knowledge of the budgeting process should be an asset," she said.
Heine has said that he believes the rising cost of energy is the most important issue facing the city.
"We need to be on the cutting edge of changing our energy uses from oil to solar," Heine said. "I would recommend that we create a solar energy department and solarize public buildings and then teach residents how to solarize their homes, and that way we can be free of foreign oil from the bottom up."
The budget and expected belt-tightening have the attention of the other four candidates in the race.
"Undoubtedly, we're looking at cuts in our budget, but I really believe that, given the chance, this council and the people in Pinellas Park are going to come up and say we can do this," Patricia Johnson said. "I believe that working together with business will create more opportunities, will create more money and more revenue for Pinellas Park."
Eddie Kosinski favors finding grants to provide incentives for new businesses to locate in the city.
"I believe with new business comes jobs and opportunities. With these new opportunities will come increased wages, more jobs, less unemployment and more spending in our city," Kosinski said.
Trish Macfarlane wants to avoid laying off any city employees.
"We're going to have to cut some services," Macfarlane said. "This is why I would like to be on the council. I would like to try very much not to lose one employee of the city."
Jerry Mullins would encourage mixed-use development.
"Strong businesses support our neighborhoods, and strong neighborhoods support our businesses," Mullins said. "I support mixed-use development that wisely balances live, work and recreation, and where we can place people closer to amenities so we spend less time in traffic and more time with our families."