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Seminole crowd vies for two seats decided Tuesday

SEMINOLE — Voters here are guaranteed at least one new face on the council after Tuesday's election, and they have a wide range to choose from as seven candidates run for the two open seats.

The choices are incumbent Thom Barnhorn, a financial adviser at Edward Jones Investments; first-time candidate Christopher Burke, a Largo police officer; semiretired Thomas J. Christy, who served on the Tonawanda, N.Y., City Council; business owner Arden Ford, who signed up to run once before but withdrew because of family and business issues; business owner Randall Hendricks, making his first run; retiree James Quinn, making his second run; and Progress Energy employee Bill Smith, a political newcomer.

The two top vote-getters will take office.

All seven generally agreed that Seminole's budget is one of the most crucial issues facing the city for the foreseeable future. Although Seminole is in better financial shape than most Pinellas cities, times will still be tough as property values continue to fall and unemployment stays high.

Barnhorn and Quinn were more hopeful than most about the city's financial future.

"We're not bulletproof to the economy and the effect it has had," Barnhorn, 54, said during a February candidates forum. He foresaw at least two more years of severe financial problems, but "when we finish, we will weather the storm. We may be bruised, but we will not be broken."

Quinn, 70, said he thinks City Manager Frank Edmunds and his staff are doing an "outstanding job" and that he would push to see that continue.

When it comes to figuring out what to do about tough budgets, most of the candidates talked about increasing the city's tax base by annexation or encouraging business development.

All faced the question at a forum as to whether they are willing to forgo the annual $5,562 council salary to help cut the budget.

Barnhorn said that would be a topic for a council workshop. And although he did not directly answer the question, he defended the salary, saying you "get what you pay for."

Christy, 58, said, "That's probably something we need to look at." But Christy said a better place to start might be eliminating the $2,500 that each council member receives annually for travel and training.

Quinn answered "no, because I would not expect anybody else to give up their salary. There's always fat in everybody's budget. … I don't think the city employees would expect us to give up our salary."

Burke, 45, said he would willingly forgo the salary if it would help the city succeed.

Ford, 70, also said he would give up the salary. If it came to that, Ford said, it would mean all salaries are being slashed. Why make someone else take a salary cut if you are not willing to do it? he asked.

Hendricks, 63, said he wouldn't miss the salary and did not even realize the position was paid until he signed up to run.

Smith, 43, also would be willing to give up the salary.

Voters will have more to decide than who will represent them. There are also eight charter amendments on the ballot. The amendments range from one that will change the date of the city election from March to November to coincide with the general election to others that would simply make language comply with changes in state law.

Seminole has a council-manager form of government. The city manager oversees day-to-day operations. The council sets the budget and policy. The council has seven members, including the mayor. They serve staggered three-year terms.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Go to myseminole.com for polling places and a copy of the ballot. A copy of the ballot can also be found at votepinellas.com.

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

Seminole crowd vies for two seats decided Tuesday 03/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 5, 2010 6:12pm]
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