TARPON SPRINGS — Three longtime Tarpon Springs residents, all heavily involved in the city, are running for one open City Commission seat in the March 11 election.
The candidates offer a study in contrasts, and that was on display during a recent forum at City Hall. The city has posted a video of the one-hour forum online. Two upcoming candidate forums will be open to the public as well.
The candidates are:
• Chris Hrabovsky, 44, an environmental and political activist who works as a hypnotist in private practice. He has been attending commission meetings for eight years and frequently voices his opinion.
• Joe Muzio, 62, a Realtor who ran for Seat 3 in 2010. A veteran who formerly worked for the Home Shopping Network, he's been on the board of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce.
• Rea Sieber, 61, a Sponge Docks business owner who heads the Tarpon Springs' Merchant Association. She is on the city's budget advisory committee, tourism council and frequently helps organize events like food truck rallies.
They are all seeking Seat 2, held by term-limited Commissioner Susan Slattery. Commissioner Townsend Tarapani retained Seat 1 when nobody filed to run against him.
The Jan. 14 forum, which was sponsored by the city and the League of Women Voters, made a few things clear.
One is that the candidates agree on many things. They all like recycling. They're all for luring businesses downtown. They speak glowingly of Tarpon's cultural heritage. The city shouldn't mess with employees' pensions.
None of them oppose the city's $1.3 million plan to enhance the Sponge Docks. None of them would revisit Tarpon's decision to fluoridate its water.
There are differences, though.
Hrabovsky envisions an ambitious and atypical role for city government in taking on big-picture issues.
"I have some ideas about reducing our electric bill by taking on Duke Energy. We can get our money back," said Hrabovsky, whose political activism is often laced with dramatic oration. "I also have a plan to help keep people in their homes by standing up to the banks — keep their homes out of foreclosure. I also have a plan to transport the elderly around town."
He wants Tarpon to set up a flood insurance hotline. "We can do the research for people," he said. "Why should each person have to compare and contrast different insurance rates?"
The other two candidates see a more traditional role for city government.
Muzio focuses almost solely on economic development, arguing it touches every other issue.
"Economic development is going to build the future of Tarpon Springs," said Muzio, who spoke of his long experience in business. "I can't say enough about how I feel about economic development because it just affects every entity. It affects revenue, it affects population, it affects businesses."
Sieber, who has raised the most campaign money, said she understands the needs of the business community. She successfully pushed for an ordinance restricting outdoor displays at the Sponge Docks.
When asked about the biggest issue facing the city, Sieber rattled off a list: expanding the tax base, revitalizing the Sponge Docks, keeping the Anclote River and the bayous clean, streamlining government to cut taxes and making Tarpon more walkable.
The differences showed up again when the candidates were asked what should happen to Walmart's 74-acre property on U.S. 19 along the Anclote River. It's for sale after the company abandoned plans to build a Walmart Supercenter.
Hrabovsky thinks the city should buy the tree-covered property for a park. "That's the last piece of waterfront property. We need to preserve it."
Muzio wants to see development there, possibly including retail. "We have parks here in the city. We need to increase revenue. Parks don't increase revenue."
As for Sieber, she said she'd prefer to see "either a park or maybe residential properties there. Protecting that property is very important."
According to the most recent campaign funding reports, Sieber has raised $3,295, Hrabovsky $2,480 and Muzio $1,292.
The race is nonpartisan. The winner will serve a three-year term. Commissioners earn $8,000 annually.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.