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Dunedin commission candidates spar over their experience, vision for city

DUNEDIN — The race for Dunedin City Commission Seat 3 pits a one-term incumbent who says he hasn't finished what he started against a political newcomer who says it's time to introduce some "new blood" on the dais.

Dave Carson says his history of running a business and of serving on boards for the city and local nonprofits and, for the last nearly four years, on the City Commission has given him a deep understanding of the inner workings of budgets and city policies.

"I prepared myself to be a commissioner unknowingly. And when I did run, I had all the background that allowed me to step in and do the job from Day 1," says Carson, 57, co-owner of Carson Pest Control. "There was no learning curve, and I don't think my opponent has done that type of homework."

Heather Gracy, however, says she wants to protect the city's parks, cultural facilities and other amenities she believes Carson opposes. Gracy says her experiences as a longtime resident give her a unique perspective on things other residents want from city government.

"I think I represent Dunedin citizens better than he can in that I have grandparents, parents, children sandwiched between my generation. So I can see the various levels of our community needs and support," said Gracy, a 42-year-old homemaker, mother of three and former investment firm legal analyst.

Noting that "no one is born a commissioner," Gracy said she has leadership experience "in different ways" than Carson.

"I think the problem on the commission to date is not experience. It's making good decisions. With the city's professional staff and the research and work they put in," she said, "I'd be well-equipped to make good decisions."

Both candidates have spent the last few months knocking on doors, laying out their cases for the Nov. 6 general election.

Carson, an Illinois native, moved to Tampa in 1982, where he translated his skills from his family's pest control business to a gig as president of Young Pest Control. In 1998, Carson and his brother opened their own company in Dunedin.

There, Carson, who had always kept abreast of county, state and national politics, joined multiple city volunteer boards and civic organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, and began interacting regularly with the City Commission. As a result, he says, several people encouraged him to run for elected office.

Over the last three years, Carson says, he has applied the same logic to his city votes as he does at his business: He works as a team with his colleagues and treats tax dollars as if they were his own.

His priorities include resolving flooding problems, boosting tourism with a promenade linking downtown to the waterfront, and ensuring "we stay with a strong fiscal discipline and not celebrate too much" financially.

"I'm the only person on the commission today that has employees and I think I bring a totally different experience to the dais," he said. "There are some strong special-interest groups in town and I don't give in and they don't like me for it, but I will stand firm and not be swayed."

Gracy, originally from Flint, Mich., moved to Dunedin with her family in 1987 and graduated from Clearwater Central Catholic, where she met her husband, Andrew, in history class.

After spending several years moving up the ladder at Franklin Templeton Investments, Gracy says she took time off to support her husband's career as a new attorney. As her children grew, she focused on volunteerism, coaching sports, chairing Our Lady of Lourdes' school advisory council, and assisting with other organizations and community events.

Gracy says a desire to preserve and protect Dunedin's charm for her children and for future generations has prompted her to challenge Carson. She says he has cast a number of votes or made public statements she disagrees with.

Her campaign promises include expanding parks, adding bike lanes to city streets and instituting fairness in city board appointments as well as in "prudent" funding for community events and private organizations.

In a letter to her supporters, Gracy said Carson thinks the city has too many parks, wants to privatize the city marina and wants to eliminate funding for the Dunedin Fine Art Center.

Carson denies he said those things or says Gracy has taken his statements out of context.

He said Dunedin should slow down purchasing more parkland for now. He has supported an annual contribution of more than $100,000 to the art center but is reluctant to donate an extra $500,000 at this time because of the tough economy. Both Carson and City Manager Rob DiSpirito say neither the commission nor citizen advisory boards have discussed privatizing the marina.

Gracy said in an interview that she also could not find evidence of public statements by Carson about privatizing the marina, but that multiple boaters independently repeated the concern while she was walking neighborhoods.

"Whether he has (said it) or not, the tradition of our marina is like the tradition of our golf club," Gracy said. "Those are green spaces and shorelines that shouldn't be commercialized. They should be for the benefit of our Dunedin residents . . . open to everybody."

As of Sept. 21, Carson's campaign account contained $21,195, including $10,000 he loaned himself. Gracy had raised $19,305, including a $100 loan to herself.

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

Dunedin commission candidates spar over their experience, vision for city 09/28/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 8:08pm]

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