EAST LAKE — Even though it's the only local election for East Lake residents, a third of those who cast ballots apparently did not fill in the dots to vote for fire commissioners.
Voters in the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District who did fill in the dots elected a fire commission Tuesday that retains two incumbents and replaces one.
According to unofficial county results Wednesday:
• Current fire commission chairman Flo Galloway lost Seat 5 to Paul Ferreri, who claimed 61.29 percent of the vote.
• Current commission vice chairman Wilbur F. "Bill" Cannon, with 56.64 percent of the vote, retained Seat 1 against challenger Wayne Ferguson.
• Commissioner C.G. "Chuck" Schult prevailed over Mark Weinkrantz to retain Seat 3 by 397 votes, with 51.4 percent of the vote.
"Flo Galloway is a terrific person who served our community and our district very well," said Ferreri, 54, a financial adviser. "And I look forward to continuing that fine service. … I intend to manage costs carefully while maintaining the excellent service that the fire department provides."
Cannon was happy to win, but. … "Along with most of the people in the department, I'm sad for Flo that she didn't get re-elected," said Cannon, 69. "She was a very good and important part of the board while she was on it and contributed much."
Schult, 78, could not be reached Wednesday, but Weinkrantz feels voter apathy and lack of knowledge about the candidates hurt him in the race.
"It does not have enough visibility for people to make an informed decision," said Weinkrantz, 51. In subdivisions without gates, where he could go door to door, he said he beat Schult.
"I did not lose to Chuck Schult," he said. "I lost to the fact that I did not have a chance to connect with more people."
Cannon agreed that a majority of East Lake residents probably have no idea what the fire commission is or what it does.
According to the county Supervisor of Elections, East Lake has 26,924 registered voters and unofficial results show 21,633 ballots cast. But the highest vote tally, for Seat 3, was 14,195 votes.
At the urging of firefighters, voters established the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District in 2000. Before that, a nonprofit corporation with an elected board had managed the department budget with county oversight.
With an independent district, the fire commission now has full authority over fire service taxes collected in the district. Commissioners establish and manage the district's budget without county oversight and they can raise or lower the millage rate as needed to provide services.
The move to independence also meant firefighters would be eligible for some additional state and federal benefits like pension, disability and survivor benefits.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.