OLDSMAR — When the City Council meets on March 16, three newly elected faces will be on the dais but the challenges will still be grand.
Over the next three years, the new council will oversee the completion of the city's alternative water supply system, which at $20 million is the largest public works project in this city's 97-year history.
It 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. It will develop incentives to draw employers to vacant business parks. And it will market the city in new ways, proclaiming louder than ever that Oldsmar is a regional city conveniently located between two counties and near a major airport.
More than 10 percent of Oldsmar's 8,660 registered voters have already decided who they think is most qualified to tackle these issues. Thousands more votes are still up for grabs between now and the March 9th election day.
Here's a closer look at this year's ballot:
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The mayoral race is a stark contrast to the one in 2007. After council member Don Bohr died in December 2006, Mayor Jim Ronecker slid into the city's top post uncontested.
This time, he faces opposition from Suzanne Vale, who after six years on the council is term-limited from Seat 2.
She said Oldsmar needs a leader who is well-rounded, and she touts her work with children and families, charities, civic organizations, regional planning, transportation and school boards.
"I have very, very diverse interests," said Vale, who was a registered nurse for 20 years. "I'm there for everyone."
The mayor, she said, is too focused on business.
Ronecker doesn't mind the label. He said those business leadership skills have helped him weather several rounds of council turnover. Despite the changes, Oldsmar completed and paid off its library. Taxes have been lowered two out of the past three years. And the city secured grants and stimulus funding to build its water treatment facility, which will be ready in September 2011.
"When it comes to leading a city," said Ronecker, the president of On Demand Printing in Oldsmar, "being on the council is a lot different than being the mayor of the city, and you've got to be able to make the tough decisions and I've proven time and time again that I'm able to do that."
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The largest contest is Seat 4, a three-way race among political newcomers Robert Brown and Linda Norris and former council member Loretta Wyandt.
Brown has lived in Oldsmar for seven years. After 30 years as a sales and marketing executive, he retired in January and wants to spend that time making government — particularly budget talks — more transparent.
"Last year, when they were going through the budget item by item and discussing it, there wasn't very much in the way of promoting when and where that meeting was going to be other than maybe putting it on their Web site," he said. The council needs "better communication about those kinds of things so that more people have the opportunity to come and observe and ask questions."
Norris acknowledges she's not the most polished of the candidates. Last week, she told the St. Petersburg Times she was a recovering alcoholic who has had run-ins with the law.
She said those life experiences make her more compassionate to the concerns of residents.
What she lacks in political experience, she said, she makes up for with passion.
If elected, she said she would donate all of her $8,400 council salary to Oldsmar Cares and the Friends of the Library, two local charities. And she said she would do her part to stimulate business growth in the city by moving her Tampa company, Providence Painting Inc., to Oldsmar.
Wyandt, who was on the council from 1979 to 1981 and from 1988 to 1990, said she brings "experience, maturity and common sense" to the council — something Oldsmar needs at a time when municipalities across Florida are seeing property values plummet and tax bases shrink.
"In these troubled economic times, I feel I can contribute to this office," said Wyandt, who has tried to return to the council at least five times — 1987, 1990, 1991, 2000 and 2007 — and lost.
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For that same reason, Seat 2 candidate Janice Miller wants to rejoin the council. From the water treatment plant to the renovation of the old bank building next to City Hall, she said she was involved with many of the projects now under way.
"We have all kinds of things on the drawing board that I was part of when we started these things," said Miller, who was term-limited from Seat 3 in 2009. "I'd like to see them through to fruition."
When she was on the council, she started a citizen's academy, a boot camp for people interested in learning more about government. Some of the graduates include current council member Doug Bevis and Miller's opponent, Tom Eckert.
A high school history teacher, Eckert said it's time for new ideas and new leaders to emerge.
"We came up with the idea of term limits for a reason," he said. "We all run citywide for seats that have numbers but it's the same voters. I would like to reach out to Janice and have her be a part of the team and allow her to serve at a different level."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.