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Seminole City Council hopeful seems like candidate in name only

SEMINOLE — Voters here will see four names on the ballot in the upcoming City Council race, but it's unclear if all of them are serious about winning.

The status of Matt Nilssen's candidacy became a topic at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

"My understanding is he does not want the position," council member Chris Burke said. "If that's the case, the voters should know before they go to the polls. . . . We don't want our voters to waste their vote, is my point."

City Clerk Rose Benoit, who oversees the election, said, "He's not campaigning, but he's still on the ballot. . . . No, he does not want the position."

Mayor-elect Leslie Waters added, "For all intents and purposes, there are three candidates."

Nilssen, 38, could not be reached for comment.

Doubts about the seriousness of his campaign arose last month when he called Benoit to ask about withdrawing from the race.

Because the ballot had already been printed with the four candidates' names, Benoit told him the city would have had to send out letters to all voters telling them of Nilssen's decision.

Council member Jim Quinn, who is running for re-election, estimated the cost of stamps alone would have been about $7,500.

Benoit said the next thing she received was an email dated Jan. 23 from Nilssen: "Per our phone conversation this morning, I will continue as a candidate for the position of city councilor for the city of Seminole."

Benoit received a second email on Feb. 4:

"Due to unforeseen circumstances, I am corresponding to let you know that I will be unable to attend the city-sponsored forum for the residents to 'Meet the Candidates' scheduled for 02/07/2013. Regretfully, these unforeseen circumstances will inhibit my ability to attend tonight's 02/04/2013 'Meet the Candidates' forum."

Financial forms also indicate Nilssen has raised no money.

City officials stopped short of saying people should not vote for Nilssen. That's a decision individual voters must make, they said.

"Absent a withdrawal, he's a qualified candidate whose name is on the ballot," city attorney John Elias said.

The election is March 12. On the ballot are Nilssen, Quinn, incumbent Thom Barnhorn and fourth-time candidate Tom Christy. The two top vote-getters will take office.

Seminole has a council-manager form of government and an operating budget of about $15.2 million. The City Council is composed of the mayor and six council members, who are responsible for setting the budget and adopting policy.

Council members earn $5,562 a year.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Seminole City Council hopeful seems like candidate in name only 02/16/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 4:56pm]
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