NEW PORT RICHEY — A diverse field of candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for the April 9 elections, where two City Council seats are up for grabs.
Incumbent Bob Langford will face off against Chopper Davis, Michael Malterer, Ginny Miller, Rose Mohr, Jeffrey Starkey and Jonathan Tietz.
At a candidate forum Wednesday evening, Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said 341 absentee ballots have been cast, for a 4 percent turnout already among the city's 8,422 registered voters. Last year's City Council election drew just 5 percent of the city's voters overall.
"So we're probably going to at least double that, which is not where it should be, but certainly a step in the right direction," Corley said.
Langford, 70, has spent nine years on the council and is seeking another three years. Initially, he announced he would not be running again, but said he changed his mind because he feared a first-year learning curve for a new council member might stall the economic progress he believes the city has made.
Improving public safety topped the list of concerns among the candidates.
"Crime is affecting the quality of life in the city," Langford said. "When I'm hearing from people they are afraid to walk in Sims Park at night, that's not right."
Davis, Starkey and Tietz have also made public safety the pillar of their campaigns.
Davis, 65, said he has been a burglary victim three times and is fed up with the crime in the city. As a council member, he said, he would work to establish neighborhood watch programs and an educational format for people to become more informed about crime trends in the area.
For example, he said, the crimes committed against him happened during the day.
"I think it's a daytime problem more than a nighttime problem," he said.
Tietz, 24, said a rash of car burglaries in his neighborhood was a major factor in his decision to run. He said he wants to upgrade streetlights and work with police administration to find effective ways of patrol to crack down on drug deals, which are often done in the open.
"I see it on a daily basis," Tietz said.
Starkey, 38, who grew up in the city and still lives just off U.S. 19, said he wants the council to adopt a nuisance abatement ordinance that would give New Port Richey and police extra teeth in combatting troubled properties — namely motels — that draw endless calls for the service.
"I would rather see those motels vacant with boards on their windows that to have the crime they breed continue," Starkey said. "It's a slap in the face."
Former City Council member Ginny Miller said she, too, is concerned about crime and believes it can be addressed not only by law enforcement but revitalization efforts in the city's run-down interior neighborhoods. She said New Port Richey needs to be a more walkable place with safe parks that draw families.
"We have a critical public safety problem in some of our residential neighborhoods that must be — and are being — addressed now," said Miller, who works in a dropout prevention program at Gulf Middle School. "I am acutely aware of the family issues my at-risk students and their families face daily."
All of the candidates agree that tackling the crime issue will be the key to bringing new businesses to the city and redevelopment efforts such as the Hacienda Hotel. Mohr, 65, a downtown business owner, said she brings the business perspective to the ballot and that she will work to open communication lines between the business community and the city.
"I think there's really not a voice for local business," she said. "I just think there's so much potential downtown."
Malterer, 24, said he, too, wants to see a thriving downtown and said he will work to make the permitting process easier to navigate for business owners seeking to locate in the city.
He would also like to see a reduction in property taxes.
"We have high property taxes in the city," he said. "That's something that definitely deters ownership."
About the election
New Port Richey voters will pick two City Council members in the April 9 election, with the top two vote-getters securing a seat. Council members make $3,600 a year (the mayor, who is not up for reelection this year, makes $4,200). Each term lasts three years.
Background: A former owner of Jilly's downtown bar and has sales experience for Titan IC, C-Tech, the Tampa Bay Times and Financial Transaction Services. He is also a high school sports referee and umpire and supervised the shelter workshop at the Center for Independence. He serves on New Port Richey's Fireman's Pension Board. He is a 1997 Leadership Pasco graduate and volunteer. He is also a Coteeman Triathlon organizer.
Top issues facing the city: Improving public safety; bringing businesses to downtown; and neighborhood revitalization.
Background: Served on the New Port Richey City Council for nine years. First elected in 2002, he served three years, and was then elected again in 2006 for two more terms. He is a longtime audio engineer and music publisher. He serves on numerous boards and committees including AMI Kids Pasco, Pasco Judicial Circuit 6 Juvenile Justice Council, Red Apple Adult Training Center, Pasco Arts Council, West Pasco Historical Society, Friends of the New Port Richey Library and Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. His was married to Janice, who died in 2008; and he has a stepson and two stepdaughters.
Top issues facing the city: Continuing the economic turnaround; improving public safety; improving housing stock/reducing rentals.
Background: A former assistant manager at Dick's Sporting Goods and currently a branch manager for Penske Truck Leasing. He is also a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor, member of the Pearl of the West Masonic Lodge, and is part of the outreach ministry for Generations Christian Church. He and his wife, Katelynn Malterer, are expecting their first child in September.
Top issues facing the city: Bringing in new business; improving public safety; combating blight.
Background: Served two stints on the New Port Richey City Council totaling 12 years before deciding last April not to seek re-election. She has been a Pasco teacher since 1999, with eight years at Gulf Middle School, where she currently works in dropout prevention. She is co-owner of Caladesi Landscaping & Maintenance and has volunteered for the West Pasco Historical Society, Keep Pasco Beautiful, Pasco Visitors and Convention Bureau, and Cotee River Cleanup. She has a son.
Top issues facing the city: Neighborhood redevelopment/improvements; improving public safety; promoting economic development.
Background: Co-owner of the downtown deli and produce market, Market Off Main. She serves on the city's Environmental Committee and Greater New Port Richey Main Street Downtown Farmers Market Committee. She has two sons.
Top issues facing the city: Improving relations with business owners; promoting downtown redevelopment; increasing police presence downtown and in Sims Park.
Background: An insurance agent and owner of Great Florida Insurance in New Port Richey, and is a former associate insurance agent at Starkey Insurance in New Port Richey. He is a member of the North Suncoast branch of the National Association of Insurance Agents and Financial Advisors. He has also volunteered for fundraisers for Southeast Guide Dogs Association and Alzheimer's Family Organization. He and his wife, Amber, have a son and a daughter.
Top issues facing the city: Improving public safety; promoting community redevelopment; eliminating nuisance properties.
Background: A freelance videographer and graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's in telecommunications and a master's in digital arts and sciences. He is a former camera tech for Daktronics Inc. in Gainesville and lead editor for Pinz & Needlz, a pilot Web TV series about tattoo culture in Tampa. He has volunteered for athletic activities for the Pasco Pediatric Foundation.
Top issues facing the city: Improving public safety; promoting community redevelopment; supporting business generation.