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Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock, a voice against the majority

Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock, center, chats with Clearwater residents Jackie Korzenowski, left, and Jean Scudder during a public meeting about the county budget. Bostock has gained a reputation as a contrarian.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock, center, chats with Clearwater residents Jackie Korzenowski, left, and Jean Scudder during a public meeting about the county budget. Bostock has gained a reputation as a contrarian.

For nearly three hours, residents and environmentalists pleaded with the Pinellas County Commission to have the courage to pass one of the state's toughest summertime fertilizer bans.

It would spare groundwater from runoff pollution, and save in cleanup costs later, they said. Pinellas should be a leader and stand up to businesses lined up against the measure.

One by one, commissioners agreed that tougher standards were needed. Then came Commissioner Nancy Bostock's turn to speak. She held the list of minimum requirements the state suggested to toughen fertilizer requirements.

"I'm not saying that they're not desirable, because I've heard that loud and clear from a whole lot of folks. But this says necessary," Bostock said, suggesting Pinellas was going too far and could hurt business.

The commission voted 6-1 to pass the ban, with Bostock in the minority.

It was her usual place.

In 16 months on the board, Bostock has become known as the group naysayer on issues big and small. She fought the commission's decision to restrict the use of digital billboards, and was the only nay on a transit authority vote to begin studying how to bring light rail to Pinellas.

She set off an avalanche with her questions about countywide curbside recycling, wanting to know more details about its cost, public benefits and long-term effects. Other commissioners responded with their own questions, stalling a service that was supposed to start this year.

Bostock, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Florida, shrugs off the reputation.

"I'm not a naysayer," she said. "I'm a yes to fiscal responsibility."

Bostock said she has sought to save taxpayers money (recycling) and protect business from unnecessary, unjustified regulations (fertilizer ban). They are staples of a fundamental brand of conservatism for the St. Petersburg Republican.

Besides sending county officials and commissioners digging for details, she said her efforts have forced county officials to rethink and improve plans.

While she may leave her fellow commissioners scratching their heads, Bostock says her agenda is to squeeze more efficiency out of a county grappling with a two-year budget deficit of $80 million.

She also is not afraid to question the smallest of county operations, like why dealing with a rebate for her father's water-saving toilet took eight phone calls.

About the same time, the commission took up renewing the program she criticized. The vote was 6-1.

In addition to often being on the losing end of battles, her approach risks burning goodwill she may need to accomplish her objectives — though specific ones have yet to manifest, a fact amplified by her resistance to other proposals.

"I would like to better understand why she's saying what's she's saying now. Sometimes it's not clear," said Commissioner Susan Latvala.

Conservative bona fides

Bostock ran for commission in 2008 as a skeptic of taxes, critical of the county's recent service expansions in areas like homelessness and affordable housing.

Before that she served 10 years on the Pinellas County School Board, where her Christian faith and conservative social views were a hallmark. She supported funding vouchers to pay for private schools and teaching faith-based theories of evolution.

Long identified as ardently conservative, Bostock doesn't always fit into a single box.

She once defended students who wore the Confederate flag on their clothes, and opposed protections based on sexual orientation.

The School Board was known for scrapping and delving into details during meetings, so it was a bit of a culture shock when the 41-year-old took her seat on a commission that has been known to go along to get along, which critics say comes at the expense of debate and detailed review.

Bostock doesn't mind that she's jeopardizing the commission's congenial reputation. In February, she disagreed with the board's item-by-item approaching to planning budget cuts, seeking what she called a bigger picture view.

"Why don't we keep going. … This is the process we decided to use," Latvala said.

"When did we decide to use this process?" Bostock shot back.

It turns out commission Chairwoman Karen Seel made that decision in a private meeting with County Administrator Bob LaSala. They later said that decision traditionally has fallen to the chair, but offered to hold another planning session later.

But the last three work sessions were canceled despite Bostock's pleas for more scrutiny.

Latvala, a former School Board member, said there's a big adjustment between the school system and the county because of the large variety of programs the county handles.

"It's very difficult and challenging to get your arms around all that county government does and why they do it," Latvala said.

Recycling sparks division

While political opposites, Commissioner Ken Welch credits Bostock for asking good questions and giving reasons for no votes. Recent county issues haven't brought her social views to the forefront of debate, though her conservatism has emerged on environmental votes.

Her vote against the summer fertilizer restrictions and opposition to recycling places her at odds with environmentalists' lobbying and the board's direction.

"If that doesn't meet with the majority, I would worry about the majority. It takes courage to stand up to the majority and say, 'I don't agree with it,' " said Ron Scheffler, co-chairman of Pinellas County's Christian Coalition, where Bostock speaks annually.

Darden Rice, a Progress Florida leader and a Democrat who ran against Bostock in 2008, called Bostock "out of step with the facts and out of step with the public" on recycling.

Rice's group, along with the Pinellas Democratic Party, has taken to zinging Bostock for helping block the start of curbside recycling.

Bostock said adding curbside recycling service would not be getting "the biggest bang for our buck," especially when the county faces a budget deficit. But her role is an example of how she's influenced the board, no matter the reaction.

"This isn't about popular opinion," she said.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock, a voice against the majority 04/02/10 [Last modified: Sunday, April 11, 2010 10:21pm]
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