Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

Candidates for Dunedin mayor debate definition of leadership

DUNEDIN — When former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth stepped down in 2009, he said his work on the Dunedin political scene was done.

Even after launching unsuccessful bids for Congress and the Pinellas County Commission, Hackworth said he was content watching from afar as local elected leaders melded their new ideas with changes he'd helped bring about during his tenure.

But now Hackworth is back, opposing his former commission colleague, incumbent Mayor Dave Eggers, in the Nov. 6 election.

Hackworth said the city needs aggressive leadership he has not seen in the last three years. That approach will be especially important, he said, as the city attempts to attract someone to buy the deteriorating Fenway Hotel and if other cities try to yank away the Toronto Blue Jays, the city's spring training baseball team, which will renegotiate its contract with the city in a few years.

"The ability to be more bold, to advocate for bold initiatives, is within me, and I'm not real sure that Dave has the same ability. He just seems a lot more cautious, a lot more reserved," said Hackworth, 57, a partner in his family's book publishing firm.

Eggers, however, says the positive changes in the city during his tenure prove that his leadership style — listening to staff, residents and other commissioners and helping them reach compromise on tough issues — works.

"To me, leadership is about getting things done, and when there's a key issue coming up in this community, we go after it," said Eggers, a 55-year-old commercial real estate broker. "It's not all about me. It's about a group effort and … I'm very comfortable saying we've made significant progress over the last four years."

Eggers and Hackworth took different paths to politics.

Hackworth, a married father of two, has spent more than 40 years of his life in Dunedin. He said a brief stint in Colorado, where he operated a small sports marketing business while pursuing a career as a bicycle racer, made him appreciate Dunedin's charms more than ever.

"Now I was dealing with my kids growing up in the same town I grew up," he said, "and that's what moved me towards paying attention to a lot of governmental affairs."

Hackworth started attending City Commission meetings as a private citizen, opposing excessive development and advocating for parks. He was elected to the commission in 2002 and served seven years, including one term as mayor.

Eggers says his political career was more a matter of happenstance.

Born in Missouri, Eggers grew up in Peru, Guatemala and Virginia. He moved to Safety Harbor in 1984 and was introduced to Dunedin when a friend asked him to coach Little League there.

In 1988, Eggers moved to Dunedin, where he eventually became head of the Chamber of Commerce's government affairs committee. Years later, he chuckles at how he was told to attend "a couple" of City Commission meetings; Eggers went to nearly every meeting for the next two years.

He went on to join several Dunedin citizen advisory groups, including the board of finance and the board of adjustment and appeal.

"It was a good experience for me and I finally decided the best way I could give back was to serve as an elected official," he said.

Eggers was elected a commissioner in 2003, re-elected without opposition in 2006 and elected mayor in 2009, replacing Hackworth.

The incumbent says he's done a good job.

Commissioners represent the city on a dozen local and county boards. Eggers is on several, including the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, where he serves as chairman and also leads a subcommittee that oversees transportation for the disadvantaged. The experience, Eggers said, has helped him view city matters from a broader perspective and to build relationships with key contacts in the medical, fire and other fields that Dunedin will likely deal with in the near future.

The City Commission's team effort in recent years, he said, has led to four new parks, a partnership with Clearwater on a cost-saving employee health clinic, implementation of stormwater drainage improvements that withstood Tropical Storm Debby, and a new bond rating that will save millions over the next 15 or so years.

Eggers also helped persuade Achieva Credit Union to relocate its corporate headquarters to Dunedin and helped facilitate a recreation merger through participation in bi-monthly meetings with North Pinellas' mayors and city managers.

""Working with such a diverse set of commissioners, I consider myself a consensus builder, working to get things done. We've had respectful and incremental improvements over the last three or four years," Eggers said.

"It's been tough times — there's no sugarcoating that," he said. "But I think the city's managed very well. We've got a great staff and they've been able to find creative ways to cut costs and unfortunately that does mean letting people go."

Top priorities he anticipates for Dunedin include resolving city flooding problems, maintaining a strong city employee workforce and warding off over-development during an era of growth.

Hackworth, however, says his frustration over what he sees as poor budgeting, failure to follow established policies and a lack of transparency prompted him to file to challenge Eggers.

His criticisms range from the commission's handling of recent city employee layoffs to the debate over whether to remove fluoride from city water to the commissioners' decision to reject a policy that would have allowed them, rather than staff, to decide the fate of an "eyesore" waterfront project.

Among Hackworth's biggest gripes, though, is his belief that the commission has sent messages about city finances that are "dishonest" and "conflicting."

According to Hackworth, the phrase "economic downturn" has been used to avoid investing in certain projects the commission opposes. He says the city should instead follow the example of past leaders whose investments during tough times in amenities like the Dunedin Fine Art Center have helped the city survive the current recession.

Eggers —who stated at a recent candidate forum that, if allowed a do-over, he would vote with the majority to keep city water fluoridated — says Hackworth doesn't understand the extent of the bleak economic picture. Hackworth says he understands it fully

"You can't say you're so poor (that) you have to cut services or do layoffs, and then say you can afford to cut the (tax) millage rate. It can't be both," Hackworth said. "It's one or the other."

As of Sept. 21, Eggers' campaign account contained $13,080, while Hackworth had raised $23,905.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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