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Pinellas cities and towns go to polls on Tuesday

Change could be in the air as voters head to the polls Tuesday in 10 Pinellas municipalities.

At stake are not only the usual mayoral and council seats but also a historic annexation and a contentious mayor's race that has a judge and lawyers waiting in the wings for the results.

Voters in East Lake Woodlands will decide whether to become part of Oldsmar.

A yes vote could substantially increase the Oldsmar tax base — East Lake Woodlands, the Shoppes of Boot Ranch, the East Lake Woodlands Shopping Center and the Lockheed Martin property had a 2007 taxable value of about $741.2 million, and even though that has dropped with the real estate slump, it's still a tidy sum.

But it's not only the annexation itself that makes the vote historic. The entire election has been by mail ballot, a first for Pinellas County. Ballots were mailed out starting Feb. 18 and must be returned to the supervisor of elections by 7 p.m. Tuesday when the polls close.

Among the more traditional elections, the most controversial has been the race for Kenneth City mayor where challenger Teresa Zemaitis, a 10th-grade reading teacher at Dixie Hollins High School and former council member, is facing incumbent Muriel Whitman. Town officials have ruled Zemaitis ineligible to serve as mayor because an obscure clause in the Kenneth City charter bans all public employees from holding that office. Zemaitis, they say, is a public employee.

The clause was not discovered until after the qualification closing date, so Zemaitis refused to pull out of the race, which would have automatically thrown it to Whitman. Since then, the town has hired high-powered Tampa attorney Tom Scarritt and the ACLU has jumped into the fray on Zemaitis' behalf. If Zemaitis wins Tuesday, retired circuit judge Horace Andrews is prepared to hear arguments at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The arguments are expected to revolve around two issues: Is Zemaitis a public employee as contemplated by the charter and, if so, is the charter provision constitutional?

Kenneth City voters will also have a chance to elect two council members. They have a choice between incumbent Harold Jividen, former council member Ron Sneed and political newcomer Allen Schopp.

In other races:

Belleair: Incumbents Stephen R. Fowler and Stephanie Oddo are facing challenger Brad Ackerman for the two open seats. The two highest vote-getters will take office.

Belleair Bluffs: Incumbent Mayor Chris Arbutine Sr. is facing challenger David M. Shimkus, who has served on the commission and as vice mayor. Incumbent Robert P. Russo is facing challengers John "Jack" Nazario and Suzy Sofer for two two-year council terms. Joe Barkley, Gary Nemes and Wanda Rusinowski are seeking a one-year council term.

Dunedin: Experienced City Commissioners Dave Eggers and Deborah Kynes are running for mayor. Commissioner Julie Scales is running for re-election for Seat 1 against Michael Quill, who has previously sought a seat on the commission. Ron Barnette and Tony Scruton, both previous candidates, are vying for Seat 2 on the commission, and Dave Carson and John Tornga are running for Seat 3.

Gulfport: Six candidates are vying for two commission seats. In the Ward 2 race, Chrisan Herrod pulled out, leaving incumbent Michele King, who is opposed by Jim Greenwald, Ward 4 incumbent Mary Stull is opposed by Pam Prell, Courtland Yarborough and Sam Henderson.

Indian Rocks Beach: Three candidates are seeking two seats. The highest two vote-getters among Phillip J. Hanna, Don House Jr. and incumbent Terry Hamilton-Wollin will win the two seats. Voters will also have a chance to change the charter to make the city treasurer a city employee rather than a charter officer, as is currently the case.

Oldsmar: Sara Normandeau, who works in medical staffing, and Doug Bevis, 45, a civil engineer and country radio personality, are seeking Seat 3 on the council. Voters will also have a chance to change the charter to require a charter review at least once every five years. The charter now requires a review at least every three years.

Redington Beach: Voters will have a chance to give the mayor and commission a raise. A proposed charter amendment would increase the mayor's salary from $100 a month to $500 a month and commission members' salaries from $50 a month to $300 a month.

Safety Harbor: Three seats are open. For Seat 1, incumbent Joe Ayoub faces two challengers, Robin Fornino and Karen Skiff. For Seat 2, incumbent Mary Lynda Williams faces challenger Barbara Ewert. For Seat 3, newcomers Nancy Besore and Glen Caristinos are vying for the seat held by Nadine Nickeson, who decided not to run again.

Seminole: Two seats are open. Voters have a choice of incumbent Thomas Barnhorn, former state Rep. Leslie Waters, third-time candidate Patricia Plantamura and first-time candidate James Quinn. The two highest vote-getters will be elected.

Pinellas cities and towns go to polls on Tuesday 03/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 8:49am]

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