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March 11: Three candidates fight for two seats in Belleair Bluffs

BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Three candidates are running for two Belleair Bluffs City Commission seats in Tuesday's election. The top two win.

The town of about 2,500 people is west of Largo, south of Belleair and east of the Belleair Causeway.

The two incumbents, three-term Commissioner Joe Barkley and two-term Commissioner Taylour Shimkus, say Belleair Bluffs is well run and is in good shape financially.

Challenger George Lawton says the commissioners have been in office too long and changes are needed. He ran unsuccessfully for a commission seat last year. He got nearly 27 percent of the vote, but lost to two incumbents who got 39 and 34 percent.

Barkley, 65, owns a Largo insurance office. "Belleair Bluffs is financially strong and well-maintained," he said. "I don't think there are any major issues to speak of."

Shimkus, 36, is a stay-at-home mom and vice president of a direct-mail business she owns with her husband. She'd like to see the city's playground updated.

"Right now there's no issues," she said. "I've been walking around talking with residents, and there is no huge concern."

Lawton, 65, recently retired as chief financial officer of a local aerospace company. He says the city needs to be more responsive to its residents. "The commission talks down to them," he said. "They don't address the issues."

Belleair Bluffs disbanded its fire department in 2009 and contracted with the Largo Fire Department.

Lawton criticizes commissioners' handling of the Fire Department pension plan. He says their delays caused the city's obligation to grow from $600,000 to $1.6 million. "They were asleep at the wheel."

Barkley says the city was legally required to go through a series of steps to determine how much was owed to the pension plan.

"He's stirring up issues that don't exist," Barkley said. "If people were up in arms, we would hear about it. The fact is, we don't have 10 to 20 Georges coming to every meeting. We have one George."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com.

Polling place

Belleair Bluffs City Hall, 2747 Sunset Blvd. Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

March 11: Three candidates fight for two seats in Belleair Bluffs 03/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 2:07pm]
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