Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Safety Harbor commission candidates want to improve quality of life

SAFETY HARBOR — A real estate consultant, a former outdoor trail developer and a retired county worker are contending for a City Commission seat this election season.

The three candidates — Richard Blake, Ray R. Irvin and Robert Saltzman — are competing for the seat Commissioner Joe Ayoub is leaving.

Ayoub ran unopposed to finish the term of Mayor Andy Steingold and assumes that position in January. Steingold submitted his resignation to seek a judgeship — a resignation that will take effect in January even though he lost the race for judge in August.

Though using different approaches, the three commission campaigns share a common vision of promoting Safety Harbor's quality of life.

The youngest candidate at 34, Blake hopes to infuse the commission with new energy. He's a Remax real estate consultant who also sits on the city's planning and zoning board.

Blake's primary focus: getting more public input on the commission's decisions. Too few people, he said, chime in on city-wide issues.

"It makes it difficult for the leadership to really know what people want to do," he said.

By reaching out to homeowners associations and other organizations, Blake said commissioners can solicit more feedback and stay in touch with their constituents.

Another priority for Blake is ensuring the city's walkability.

"An outdoor community seems to be a happier community, in my mind," he said.

That's a goal shared by his opponent Irvin, 66. Irvin touts his previous work in Indiana, leading efforts to create trails and bike routes throughout the state and the city of Indianapolis.

Connecting Safety Harbor's outdoor paths will make it easier for children to walk to playgrounds and for aging adults to stay healthy and active, Irvin said.

"What I want is a town where, 'Gee, Mom, gee, Dad, can I ride my bike to the park?' Absolutely. You should be able to do that in this country and do it safely," he said.

Irvin has his own businesses in consulting, property maintenance and patent designs. He's the only one of the three candidates with previous elected experience. He served on the City-County Council in Indianapolis more than two decades ago.

At a Safety Harbor meeting last week, Irvin was moved from an alternate to a regular member of the city's finance advisory committee.

He wants to attract more light manufacturing and pitch a grant-writing initiative to bring in more dollars for the city's "wish list" of unfunded projects. Targeting arts, environmental and recreational programs in particular, he suggested using college interns to seek grants. If successful, the city could hire a grant-writer.

The third candidate in the race, Saltzman, said he'll deal with money issues as they arise. "It's pretty much math," he said, adding that he would take a conservative stance on the budget.

"Being a commissioner," he wrote in an email, "should be much more than approving drainage projects or budget battles."

A retired Pinellas County utilities employee, Saltzman, 65, was motivated to run for office after seeing a problem with rusty staples left in trees. He worried the city's parking signs for Third Friday damaged Main Street trees. He railed against the staples until the city stopped using them.

Spending hundreds of dollars on campaign signs, Saltzman tries to get his name out at city events and by waving signs on street corners around the city.

Another feature he'd like for Safety Harbor is a Christmas boat parade, similar to Treasure Island's annual festivities.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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