CLEARWATER — Voters may not be too familiar with the name John Funk.
So since launching his campaign for City Council Seat 5 against well-known incumbent Hoyt Hamilton, Funk said he has knocked on 2,000 doors to introduce himself. Before the March 13 election, he plans to hit a total of 7,000 homes.
"I can make a difference," said Funk, 71, a real estate broker and chair of the Community Development Board. "I have a passion for city government."
Funk is campaigning on bringing better planning and strategy to city decisions.
He believes that before the $55 million waterfront redevelopment plan Imagine Clearwater moves forward, the city should first recruit more private developers to invest in under-used properties downtown. City officials, however, envision the most aggressive business and development activity in the struggling core will come as a result of the drastic waterfront redesign.
"We have to recognize the uniqueness of Clearwater and that the downtown area still has an opportunity, the last opportunity as far as I’m concerned, to make something happen that can happen quickly," Funk said. "The more piecemeal things go on, and the more you chew up little aspects of it, we’ll have nothing left."
Funk grew up in Southern California and began a career selling real estate in 1971 in the San Fernando Valley. He moved to Oregon in 1981, where he operated a 200-acre Arabian horse ranch, and got into the restaurant business while also continuing real estate, he said.
His businesses there, however, were tangled in several financial problems over the years. Funk declared bankruptcy three times in Oregon between 1999 and 2003, federal records show.
Bankruptcies in 1999 and 2002 were dismissed for failure to make payments. A personal bankruptcy in 2003 discharged him of his debts.
He also had four state tax liens placed against him in Oregon for failing to pay taxes between 2003 and 2004. The four liens totaling $9,139 were paid in 2010, records show.
Funk said those issues were "years and years ago" that happened "at a very bad time" and do not represent his current business or the work he’s doing now in the community. He said the market crash of 1987 "cinched the loss of everything I had after investing it all in the horse ranch."
"Things happen, and we’ve got to get up and move forward from those things," Funk said. "I’ve had a very successful real estate career, which unfortunately is affected by the markets at times, but I never stopped doing real estate for 43 years. The times where I had the worst troubles was when I diversified once into the horse business and once into the restaurant business. Sometimes the opportunities don’t always work out."
Funk moved to Florida in 2003 with his four children at the time because of good real estate prices and quality of life, he said.
An office building he co-owned in Palm Harbor went into foreclosure in 2009, Pinellas County court records show. In a separate case, a landlord filed a lien against him in 2012 for failure to make rent payments, and a judge ordered Funk to pay $11,728 in the case, according to Pinellas County court records.
Funk was also was cited for running a stop sign in an accident on Aug. 28, 2011 that killed 53-year-old motorcyclist Eugene Harris.
Funk was fined $1,000 and had his license revoked for one year. A civil lawsuit filed by the Harris family was settled before trial in 2016.
"That was not my fault but I did get cited, yes, because they were on a mission to make sure that I got a ticket," Funk said. "It was horrific. ... It’s something you don’t ever forget."
Besides his work in real estate, Funk said he spends much of his time volunteering, mostly in youth sports. He was the 2016 Volunteer of the Year for YMCA Suncoast and past president of Rotary Club of Clearwater Beach.
After years of community service, and organizing several charity events, Funk said he decided to run for City Council to bring change and a new perspective to local government.
About 75 percent of the $3,977 Funk has raised so far has come from his own pockets, according to his campaign treasurer report., which comes behind his opponent Hamilton’s $11,175. Funk said it’s his strategy to stay independent.
"I don’t have any kind of special interest backing me," he said.
Funk also said downtown revitalization efforts must include improving the city’s relationship and communication with the Church of Scientology, downtown’s largest property owner.
Also on his platform: Funk said he would advocate for lower taxes if elected. Although the city’s property tax rate has stayed unchanged for nine years, the same rate has caused many taxpayers’ bills to increase annually as property values rise.
Funk said part of his focus on strategic planning would be determining areas of the budget that could be cut to make up for the deficit from less property tax revenue.
He’s also advocating for the CDB, which reviews development proposals before they reach City Council, to have additional meetings or "work sessions" every month so members have more time to quiz city staff.
He said the board, made up of real estate, business and design professionals, often has little time to review plans before voting on them. For example, he said he only learned about the city’s 200-page Downtown Redevelopment Plan, a revised land-use policy to guide future development that’s been in the works for two years, two months before the CDB voted to approve it Jan. 9.
He’s also advocating for those meetings to take place in the evenings instead of mid-afternoon so more of the public can participate.
"(It’s) my passion for making things work," Funk said. "Right now there’s areas of City Council that’s not working."
Times senior news researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.