Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Politics

In Indian Shores, mayoral candidates' views on spending differ

INDIAN SHORES — The mayoral race Tuesday pits longtime incumbent Jim Lawrence against political newcomer John "Teo" Ruscin.

This is the first time in six years that Lawrence has been opposed for election as mayor.

Lawrence, 64, says he hopes voters will return him to office for a third term because, he says, his work is not finished.

One of the projects he hopes to lead to completion is further beautification of Gulf Boulevard, financed out of the $4.1-million in Penny for Pinellas money set aside by the county for that purpose.

"I would like to finish that job before I hang my spurs up," Lawrence says. He says the project will include artwork, decorative benches and additional improved trolley stops.

Several years ago, the town spent $6.3-million to bury utilities along Gulf Boulevard. The project was largely financed by pledging utility and communications taxes in anticipation of partial reimbursement from the county.

Under Lawrence's watch, the town also spent $4.5-million to build a town hall.

That project was paid for with a combination of Penny for Pinellas capital funds and a $2.5-million loan, which the town expects to pay off with new Penny funds over the next 10 years.

In his next term, if elected, Lawrence says he also hopes to renovate the town's tennis courts and the playground behind town hall.

"We are getting more younger families with children in town now, and we need to provide facilities for them," Lawrence says.

Challenger Ruscin, 33, says the town has "wasted a lot of money" and failed to adequately communicate with its residents.

"I want the town to get the biggest bang for its buck," says Ruscin.

One of the first things he says he would do is cut the town's $2.2-million budget, an amount he says is out of proportion to other similarly sized towns. Indian Shores has approximately 1,400 residents.

Ruscin says the town's services are poorly managed and its streets flood.

"Everybody complains, but I like to have a solution and I have the time on my hands to do the job," Ruscin says.

Better communication with residents is a big issue for him and one of his first priorities, if elected.

"It's important to get people involved," Ruscin says. "It boils down to if you are happy with the town's spending, vote for the mayor, but if you agree with me that the municipal center is a complete waste and we need to better manage our money, vote for me."

• • •

THE JOB: The mayor serves a three-year term at a salary of $11,265 a year and is elected townwide.

Polling place

• Precinct No. 419, Indian Shores Town Hall, 19305 Gulf Blvd.

The candidates

Jim Lawrence: He has lived in Indian Shores since 1993 and served 14 years on the Town Council, the last six as mayor. He is also president of the Barrier Islands Government Council (Big-C). Previously, he served almost three years on the town's Police Pension Board. He served on the board of directors of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and represented the town on the North Beaches YMCA board of directors where he was chairman from 2005 to 2007. Lawrence retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1993. He served as a pilot in every U.S. conflict from Vietnam to the first Gulf War. He graduated from St. John's University with a bachelor's degree in economics and a minor in management, and holds a master's degree in international relations from Auburn University. He also earned postgraduate credits in systems management from the University of Southern California. He is married and has two children and a grandchild.

John "Teo" Ruscin: He has lived in Indian Shores for the past 3 1/2 years. He is a native of Ohio and also lived in Arkansas and California. He owns RFID Architects, an information technology consulting firm focusing on radio frequency identification projects. Previously, he was a contractor for the Department of Defense, an IT specialist for Alien Technology where he was involved in a variety of information technology projects for Wal-Mart, and worked as a program manager for GE. This is Ruscin's first attempt at elective office and he has not served on city boards or committees. He graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati with a bachelor's degree in computer science. He is single.

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