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Voters along Pinellas beaches render variety of verdicts

Voters along Pinellas beaches appeared to be in a mixed mood Tuesday, agreeing to "save" Madeira Beach's historic Snack Shack, granting a fire district fee increase many said was needed to stave off bankruptcy, and returning some incumbents to office while tossing others out. St. Pete Beach residents chose candidates who favored allowing an aging hotel district to redevelop.

Indian Rocks Beach

Nearly 70 percent of voters in Indian Rocks Beach ousted Mayor Bill Ockunzzi, replacing him with R.B. Johnson, who moves up from his commission seat.

Ockunzzi was targeted by year-long e-mails and Web blogs that accused him of practicing divisive politics, which he strongly denied.

Johnson ran on a platform of providing a "different style of leadership" to reduce animosity among commission members.

About one-third of the city's registered voters participated in the election. Joanne "Cookie" Kennedy and Daniel J. Torres were elected to fill two open seats. Kennedy was the top vote-getter, garnering more than 41 percent of the vote.

Both Kennedy and Torres campaigned on preserving the city's small-town character and returning civility to city government.

Among Johnson's top priorities for the coming year is revamping of zoning and building codes.

"We need to work harder at reining in overdevelopment," Johnson said. "The residents feel we are getting overwhelmed with condominium development."

He also wants the commission to focus on creating a "tight" budget that will adequately reflect anticipated declines in property tax revenues "without radically affecting our central services."

Reorganization meeting: 7 p.m. March 25, City Hall Civic Auditorium, 1507 Bay Palm Blvd.

Madeira Beach

Longtime Madeira Beach resident, business owner and civic activist Patricia Shontz was elected mayor with the nod from nearly 55 percent of voters last week. She is joined by Terry Lister, who was elected to the commission with nearly an identical vote, and Sarah Nichols, who was unopposed and therefore automatically elected.

Shontz hopes to "unify" the Madeira Beach community by creating an atmosphere of "respect" on the commission and toward residents who come before it.

These three new faces create a new majority on the City Commission. Will that majority work together or split to form issue-oriented coalitions with current commissioners? Only time will tell.

Topping the commission's to-do list when it meets for the first time next week will be the future of the Snack Shack. More than 70 percent of voters approved a referendum requiring the city to preserve the historic beach-front log cabin.

Just how that will be accomplished will most likely be the subject of many workshops. The voter-approved referendum requires the commission to pass an ordinance protecting the Snack Shack from demolition and mandating that restoration of the building begin within the next two months.

The commission also must select a city manager to replace Jill Silverboard, who is now assistant city manager in Clearwater. The prior commission reviewed and ranked several candidates and then left the final decision to the new commission.

Reorganization meeting: 7 p.m. March 25, City Hall Auditorium, 300 Municipal Drive.

St. Pete Beach

Voters elected newcomers Alan Halpern in District 1 and Christopher Leonard in District 3.

They chose Commissioner Mike Finnerty for mayor, with 59 percent of the vote over Commissioner Ed Ruttencutter.

The new commission must try to unite a community that has been divided by arguments over development and how it should shape the city's future.

"I think it's going to be a smooth transition. I think there's been a statement made by the voters that they want to get away from all this fighting," Finnerty said.

The election proved to be a wash for the three candidates supported by Citizens for Responsible Growth, despite a costly flier campaign.

Instead, voters went with three candidates who support a new comprehensive plan that allows the city's hotels to redevelop, in hopes of attracting tourism and promoting new growth throughout the city.

Reorganization meeting: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Hall, 155 Corey Ave.

Treasure Island

By margins of nearly 70 percent or better, Treasure Island voters overwhelmingly returned incumbent Commissioners Edward Gayton Jr. and Alan Bildz to office.

In the coming year they will face budget constraints, doubly impacted by the loss of bridge toll revenues and anticipated shortfalls in property taxes; traffic safety issues along Gulf Boulevard and on Sunset Beach; and a redevelopment plan that would meet voter approval.

"The biggest issue is balancing the budget without increasing taxes or decreasing essential services," Gayton said.

Reorganization meeting: 7 p.m. Tuesday, City Hall, 120 108th Ave.

South Pasadena

South Pasadena voters returned incumbent Diane Sheldon to her commission seat for a third time. Under city rules, this is the last term for Sheldon.

Voters also opted for newcomer Kathleen Peters to fill an open seat.

As in other Pinellas cities, the new City Commission will face some tough decisions in the coming year as it strives to balance a budget with less property tax revenue. Both Sheldon and Peters indicated during their recent political campaigns that they are concerned that city services and the city's beautification efforts are maintained.

Reorganization meeting is Thursday; next meeting, an administrative workshop, is April 1 at City Hall, 7047 Sunset Drive S.

Pinellas Suncoast Fire

& Rescue District

Officials here are gasping great gulps of relief that after three defeats, voters, by a nearly 60 percent margin, approved an increase in fire protection fees.

The $70 annual hike for residents in the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District (and equivalent increases for businesses) will come just in time, fire officials say, to keep the fire district from insolvency.

For the past few years, the fire district cut spending but was forced to tap reserves to pay its monthly bills. The new revenue will allow the district to once again build a capital fund to replace equipment and upgrade facilities.

Next commission meeting: 7 p.m. Tuesday, 304 First St., Indian Rocks Beach.

Other beach communities

Six beach communities did not hold elections because there was no competition against incumbents or for open seats.

In Belleair Beach, David Dumville and council members Richard Crowl and Mitch Krach were unopposed.

Belleair Shore Commissioners Robert E. Schmidt Jr. and Ray Piscitelli and Richard Jordon, all unopposed, were automatically elected.

In Indian Shores, Carole Irelan and Steve Sutch were similarly automatically elected.

North Redington Beach Commissioner Jerry Knight was unopposed.

David Drillick and Michele Fox were unopposed for open seats on the Redington Beach Commission.

In Redington Shores, District 1 Commissioner Bert Adams and District 3 Commissioner Casey Wojcik had no opposition.

Voters along Pinellas beaches render variety of verdicts 03/15/08 [Last modified: Saturday, March 15, 2008 6:02am]
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