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Pasco County Commission District 3 rivals play up life stories

NEW PORT RICHEY — Overshadowed by other high-dollar campaigns this season, two southwest Pasco Democrats have relied on their contrasting backgrounds and shoe leather to line up votes for their County Commission primary Tuesday.

Terri Conroy, an operator of bayareatradewinds.com online newspaper, faces consultant and former Coast Guard member Nicholas Planck in the District 3 race. The winner will run against the victor in the Republican primary.

Unlike the $96,000 war chest of GOP incumbent Ann Hildebrand — or even her sparsely funded primary challengers — Conroy and Planck have raised a relative smidgen: $4,550 and $5,400, respectively.

And Conroy and Planck, both of New Port Richey, are similar politically. They're members of the RESORCE Recycling Club who want the county to improve its lagging recycling rate. They want to broaden Pasco's tax base by changing policies to make the county more appealing to businesses. And they want to reorganize the county's permitting program.

Their life stories provide the contrast in this campaign. One big difference: Conroy has lived in Pasco for three decades, while Planck moved here in 2002.

"I've lived here a long time compared to my opponent," said Conroy, 49, a Pittsburgh native. "I don't believe he's very familiar with the issues."

Planck said his leadership experience from serving 22 years in the Coast Guard — once overseeing 50 members, he said — makes up for Conroy's longer tenure in the Pasco.

"I'm much more assertive. I would tell you I probably have a lot more leadership background," said Planck, 49, who was born in Germany when his dad was in the military.

Conroy, a single mother with two daughters, felt the sting of the real estate crash when she lost her job eight months ago as a permitting supervisor with Lexington Homes. With money tight, she was delinquent on her 2007 property taxes until paying $826 on July 31.

Her main reason for running for commission is to improve the county for her daughters, she said, but losing her job gave her a special perspective on improving the county.

"The commissioners we have are so far removed from where … I am," Conroy said.

Planck, a married father of two sons, retired from the Coast Guard's Clearwater station and moved to Pasco in 2002. He later worked as a county traffic signal technician for two years until 2006, eventually becoming his own boss.

With target shooting as a hobby, he's also a member of the Second Amendment Club, a gun rights group more associated with Republicans and county GOP chairman Bill Bunting.

Planck said the Coast Guard career gave him a sense of how to work with others and the discipline to get the work done. And it showed him the importance of being assertive to improve work — something he says the board often lacks.

"When you got a county commissioner meeting and it's all silent. … I would prefer to see them sit and argue for five hours," Planck said. "At least we know we're going somewhere."

To improve Pasco, Planck puts a lot of stock in a recent report by the Urban Land Institute for the commission. It criticized the county, saying its permitting program needs to be reorganized to be more efficient.

Doing so would help the local economy by making it easier for businesses to operate in Pasco, Planck said, particularly easing the burden on the small businesses he wants to grow the tax base.

Conroy has no bones with that assessment, though she relies on personal experience.

"Go pull a permit," she said. "I have personally been there for three hours on end — waiting, waiting and waiting."

Instead of relying on small businesses, Conroy proposes that Pasco seek investment from renewable energy industries, drawing on the county's mid Florida location and access to highways. She proposes expanding credits for fees paid on new construction to encourage the industries to operate in Pasco.

While neither candidate endorses cutting library or park services or adding fees, Conroy is adamant that the county should not make access to those facilities more difficult.

Planck said he wants to improve "neglected" neighborhoods and parks, but says he's open to fee increases to balance providing services when tax revenue is decreasing.

Those areas are important to Pasco's quality of life — something she and Planck said needs a new commissioner to protect it in these tighter economic times.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.

Pasco County Commission District 3 rivals play up life stories 08/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 3:29pm]
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