OLDSMAR — In an election that appeared to signal a vote of confidence in the current administration, voters handed Mayor Jim Ronecker three more years and returned former City Council member Janice Miller to that office.
Seven people vied Tuesday for mayor and two council seats — the largest field this town of about 14,000 had seen in nearly a decade.
Business owner Linda Norris bested retired sales and marketing executive Robert Brown and former council member Loretta Wyandt in the race for Seat 4, the city's most contested.
She did so after she disclosed brushes with the law and a nearly 20-year struggle with alcohol. In a Feb. 12 interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Norris said she has been sober since April 26, 1999. She said those life experiences make her more compassionate to the concerns of residents.
"I'm going to cry," said Norris, who promised to donate her $8,400 council salary to Oldsmar Cares and the Friends of the Oldsmar Library, two local charities. "I won, I won, I won. It feels great. I didn't know how people would take my past. It ended up being a good thing. I am humbled, and I promise to do my very best."
Miller, who vacated Seat 3 last year because of term limits, defeated high school history teacher Tom Eckert in the race for Seat 2.
"I am honored that the citizens of Oldsmar have once again given me their trust to do the city's business," Miller said.
Ronecker, who beat outgoing Seat 2 council member Suzanne Vale, started his day at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.
"It was a long day," said Ronecker, who owns On Demand Printing on Mears Boulevard. "I'm relieved and excited at the same time and ready to continue moving the city in the right direction."
Until Tuesday, it had been nine years since Oldsmar had options for mayor, a position that comes with an annual salary of $10,800.
After Jerry Beverland topped Ed Manny in 2001's matchup, no one challenged him in 2004 and he was automatically re-elected. His successor, Ronecker, slid into the city's top post in 2007 when his would-be opponent died just days before the end of the qualifying period.
That history was the reason residents like Phyllis Anderson, 56, voted.
"The choices on the ballot made me come out," she said Tuesday afternoon as she exited the Oldsmar Library, one of three polling sites. "This is a year that we haven't had a mayor running unopposed."
Arthur Giannetti, 74, said he voted for Ronecker because he couldn't "see change midstream."
"There are so many things going on," he said. "I'd like to keep it going the way it is."
Over the next three years, Ronecker, Miller and Norris will oversee the completion of the city's alternative water supply system, which at $20 million is the largest public works project in the city's 97-year history.
They say they will push forward the city's goal of housing for firefighters, teachers and other employees who work in Oldsmar but can't afford to live there. They will work to obtain a green designation for the city. And they will develop incentives to draw employers and jobs to vacant buildings.
"I'm very impressed with the way (Ronecker) handles things," said Mindy Crawford, 51. "I think he cares a lot about business in the area, about development, about how our tax money is being used."
The winners will be sworn in at 6 p.m. Tuesday and join incumbents Doug Bevis and Jerry Beverland at 7 p.m. for the city's regularly scheduled council meeting.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.