TEMPLE TERRACE — A former City Council member and a retired executive director of the city's Chamber of Commerce are vying for the job as Temple Terrace mayor.
The mayor champions the city's causes, represents the city at community functions, and conducts City Council meetings. The position carries limited power, though, as the mayor only votes to break a tie. Those votes, however, can be monumental. Current Mayor Joe Affronti, for example, broke a tie vote in 2009 that turned over the land for the Downtown Temple Terrace project to a developer, Vlass Temple Terrace.
That slow-moving project appears to be the issue on most residents' minds as Frank Chillura and Cheri Donohue, both longtime residents, vie for the office. Affronti has served as mayor for eight years and reached his term limit.
Chillura, who served on the council from 2000 to 2008, cites his business experience in real estate property management as key in dealing with such issues. Born in Italy, Chillura spent his early childhood in Ybor City and moved to Temple Terrace when he was 9. The president of MC Management, Chillura said he bought his first rental property at age 15 with money earned from a lawn care business he started at 9.
He decided to run for the mostly volunteer job — it pays $4,070 a year — in order to bring back the "hometown feel'' of Temple Terrace, he said.
"If you take a walk up 56th Street and you go to the Kmart, you don't feel as safe today as you did 10 years ago,'' he said.
Donohue, retired executive director of the Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce, said her skills in bringing people together to solve problems would serve her well as mayor.
Noting that the chamber expanded from 320 to 750 members during her tenure there from 2002 to 2009, Donohue said her promotional prowess will also help bring attention to Temple Terrace as a place for home buyers and retailers to settle into.
"It almost hurts my feelings when I hear somebody say, 'We bought a house in Carrollwood or New Tampa. We didn't know Temple Terrace was out here,' '' said Donohue, who grew up in Seminole Heights and moved to Temple Terrace with her husband in 1976.
"We're not doing a good job of saying who we are.''
The $160 million Downtown Temple Terrace project, with stores, restaurants, offices, apartments and a cultural center, is one effort to establish an identity for a city that has never had a true downtown.
Negotiations between the City Council and developer seem at a stalemate. Plenty of details separate the two sides, and both mayoral candidates stress the need to keep negotiating. A crucial issue — Vlass asking for changes to the contract — is scheduled for a vote Tuesday.
"The goal is to keep the project moving along,'' said Chillura, noting that both sides are going to need to compromise; he thinks the city is doing most of the compromising so far.
Donohue said she has heard talk of delaying the project and waiting for better economic times if an agreement can't be reached. "That's a scary thought,'' she said, explaining that the city sorely needs the tax revenue from a completed project.
The candidates say they want to help Temple Terrace's young families, who worry about their children being transported to schools in other parts of the county while students from other communities are bused in to Temple Terrace schools.
Though the School Board decides such issues, Chillura and Donohue said they plan to lobby board members to make changes.
Chillura said the city needs to "speak respectfully'' and have a clear dialogue with the School Board.
Donohue said, "We have no problem whatsoever with the diversity of those schools — it brings about true education. It's just that if you have a kid in your own neighborhood, you're more likely to have involvement (in the school).''
Another concern is that Temple Terrace, a shaded suburban city where University of South Florida professors bought homes in the 1960s and 1970s, has steadily become an enclave of renters.
An estimated 47 percent of the residents are renters, a figure that concerns Chillura more than Donohue.
Donohue said that while the city has its share of apartment buildings, homeowners still far outnumber people renting houses. She said an ordinance passed a couple of years ago requiring rental property owners to get permits and undergo yearly inspections has helped to maintain the properties.
Chillura said, however, that the high percentage of rentals is putting too much of a burden on the police force and code enforcement office.
"Every time we turn around, another house is being bought up and turned into a rental.''