TARPON SPRINGS — Residents who haven't already voted by mail will go to the polls Tuesday to fill two seats on the City Commission.
Five candidates — including four who have never held elective office — are vying for the seats.
Issues that have sparked debate include whether the city needs an economic development director, whether the city should build a planned water treatment plant, and how to revitalize downtown.
Two candidates, Crissy Cladakis and Townsend Tarapani, are vying for Seat 1, being vacated by Commissioner Robin Saenger because of term limits. For Seat 2, incumbent Susan Slattery is being challenged by Jeffrey Antous and Tim Keffalas.
Winners will serve three-year terms and make $8,000 a year.
Crissy Cladakis, 38, said she is ready to take her public service to another level. A member of the city Planning and Zoning Board for about a year, Cladakis is seeking commission Seat 1.
Casting herself as a "citizen" not a "politician" in her race against Townsend Tarapani, this is Cladakis' first run for office. She has a marketing degree from the University of South Florida and works several jobs, including cashier at the cafe in Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital.
Cladakis is a St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral Parish Council member.
A bitter fight over money led to Cladakis filing a lawsuit against her family in 2008. She said that fight forced her to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy last year. The lawsuit was settled out of court.
Cladakis said she wants the city to establish a steady revenue stream rather than raising taxes or cutting employee pensions. One way to do that, she said, is to make recycling mandatory.
"I love this town, I love this community and everything about it," Cladakis said. "We need a new generation to represent the city and I'm one of those."
At age 25, Townsend Tarapani is making his first attempt at elected office, but he has a name long associated with Tarpon Springs civic affairs and politics. His father, John Tarapani, and great-grandfather, Abraham Tarapani Sr., are former commissioners, and the family has owned a business in Tarpon since 1911.
Some have questioned whether Tarapani would just represent his family's point of view if elected, but he says he's his own man. He went to college at Auburn University in Alabama, and earned a degree in Agriculture Business and Economics.
His family's history in the city "should be viewed as a good thing," said Tarapani. "I went off to school, got a good education and I returned home and now want to work, give back and start my family here."
Tarapani is a Realtor, a retailer, and a citrus and cattle operations manager. He chaired the city's Budget Advisory Committee. He is a life member of the Florida Cracker Cattle Association, and a member of the Florida Pioneer Museum board of trustees and Tarpon's Historical Society.
If elected, Tarapani said he would push for putting a hold on noncritical capital projects and for hiring an experienced economic development director to recruit businesses to the city. He said he wants to help the city prosper while maintaining its history and heritage.
"My passion is Tarpon Springs," Tarapani said. "My commitment is to the people of this community and my goal is to help achieve prosperity for the entire community."
Commissioner Susan Slattery, 46, thinks she has earned a second term as the Seat 2 commissioner. An insurance sales manager who has lived in Tarpon for 34 years, Slattery points to some of the commission's accomplishments to make her point.
She said the commission has streamlined government by eliminating frozen positions and by reorganizing to reduce staff. The city's legal expenses also were reduced under her tenure.
"I voted to expand the historic district, revitalize the Sponge Docks and provide revitalization incentives for Tarpon Avenue businesses," Slattery said.
Slattery said she would like the city to attain water independence by completing the Alternative Water Project, which will help reduce residents' water bills, too. She would also continue working to protect the Anclote River, gulf and Lake Tarpon, she said.
Slattery belongs to Tarpon Springs Elks Lodge 1719 and is a board member of the Tarpon Springs Boys & Girls Club.
"I grew up in Tarpon Springs," Slattery said. "I graduated from Tarpon High in 1982. I raised my family here. I love Tarpon Springs. I want the next generation to love it as much as I do."
Cumbersome city codes are preventing new businesses and jobs from coming to Tarpon Springs, says Jeffrey Antous.
If elected to Commission Seat 2, Antous, 58, said he would revisit the city's codes. And with his years of business experience, he would help the city prioritize spending, he said.
"Do we really need this?" Antous asked. "Will this make a difference in people's lives? For me, it is a quality-of-life issue."
Antous has lived in the city for 14 years and says that about a year and a half ago, "I decided to get really active."
He has been active in Republican Party circles and has been a member of area merchants groups.
In 1999 he opened Angel Haven, a gift shop, at the Sponge Docks. After two years, he moved the business to Madeira Beach. Antous said he is in the process of selling the business to a couple who now run its day-to-day operations.
In 2008, Antous was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He's had two operations. While he said his health is now good, he got into a battle with his insurance company about medical bills. In January, Chase Bank sued Antous over a debt of $16,397.68. He said the problem with Chase is a result of his medical expenses and he has hired an attorney to help resolve the matter.
In 1994, Tim Keffalas took a stand when the city tried to charge him and other residents for hooking up to the city's sewer system. They sued and the parties negotiated a settlement. Last month, he wrote U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson raising concerns about the former Stauffer Chemical Superfund site. He's been outspoken about his opposition to a Tarpon Avenue parking lot.
"For many years, I have been vocal in the city and at this time I feel I have the time and ability to serve the city," said Keffalas, who is a 30-year resident of Tarpon Springs and running for Seat 2.
Keffalas wants the city to create a senior center that's staffed and an alternative transportation system for the elderly. He thinks having a city economic development coordinator would be a good thing, but that hiring an internal auditor is more important. He wants a more aggressive marketing strategy for the city.
"I want to see the program 'Live, Work, Play Tarpon Springs' promoted across the state," he said.
Keffalas owns a small business that sells automobile accessories and artistic photographic products. From 1994 to 1996, he was the executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority. After the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a scathing report about the authority while under his leadership, Keffalas resigned.
Keffalas said the city staff and city spending need to be monitored more closely and that the commission needs someone willing to take on the tough challenges ahead.
"We need people who will think things out and seek advice from staff but not depend solely on staff for their advice," Keffalas said.
Contact Demorris A. Lee at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174.