With four of the five Dunedin City Commission seats up for grabs in the March 10 election, the potential for change is great. Two commission veterans are vying for mayor, but in the other three races, it is possible that a person with no experience in public office could be elected.
Voters should choose with care. These are challenging times for local governments. Revenues are down, budget deficits loom, and officials are struggling to find ways to maintain services. More than ever, city governments need elected officials who are knowledgeable, pragmatic, hard working and tough enough to make difficult decisions.
For mayor: Dave Eggers
Dunedin residents are fortunate to have a choice between two smart, knowledgeable candidates for mayor. Either one would represent Dunedin well, but we believe Dave Eggers is the best choice for these times.
Eggers, 51, has lived in Dunedin more than 20 years and has been a city commissioner since 2003. He graduated from Duke University with a degree in engineering and has a Master's in Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh. He is president of Centerpointe Realty, a commercial real estate business in Dunedin.
People describe Eggers as intelligent, articulate, friendly, calm and clear-headed. When he first ran for office in 2003, he promised to thoroughly examine city spending to make sure tax dollars were being used efficiently. He concluded that city reserves had grown to unreasonable levels. He fought a 15 percent tax increase proposed by the city staff and helped bring more transparency to the budget process. A self-described fiscal conservative, he wants to keep taxes low, but he also believes in taking care of infrastructure. For example, he pushed for new funding approaches so the city could better maintain and upgrade its stormwater system.
Eggers' toughness was tested several times during his six years on the City Commission. After the former city manager departed, Eggers joined Mayor Bob Hackworth in calling for a national search for a new manager. The two were overruled by a commission majority that unwisely favored a more limited search overseen by the city human resources director. After a bungled search process that attracted few qualified applicants and divided the city, a national search landed an outstanding city manager.
Even when it would have been easier to demur and avoid controversy, Eggers supported involving Dunedin's minority community in the civic life of the city, renaming a city recreation facility for Martin Luther King Jr. and building more affordable housing. Eggers has considered himself a commissioner for all residents of Dunedin, and his fair and open-minded approach to governing will be one of his strengths as mayor.
His opponent in the mayor's race is Deborah Kynes, 58, a Dunedin resident for 30 years and a commissioner since 1999. Kynes' campaign materials state she is a "practicing attorney," but she has not actively represented a client since 1996. Instead, she has been a full-time community volunteer and commissioner. While Kynes is a hard worker and a creative thinker, her ideas are occasionally impractical and it sometimes takes her too long to arrive at the correct position on an issue.
For mayor, the Times recommends Dave Eggers.
Seat 1: Julie Scales
We have disagreed with some of Commissioner Julie Scales' positions on important issues and we have criticized her openly hostile treatment of certain other commissioners. But Scales is experienced and understands the problems confronting Dunedin, and in this election, that makes her the better choice.
Scales, 63, has lived in Dunedin 20 years and has been a commissioner for six years. She spent 14 years working as an attorney for Pinellas County government, and she now heads the non-profit Pinellas Community Foundation.
Her commission record is mixed. She contributed to the bungled search for a city manager. She opposed contracting with the Florida Communities Trust to get a grant to buy the Weaver tract. She opposed lower tax rates in the past.
But Scales also has initiated or supported good, forward-looking programs, including a neighborhood grants program, major corridor studies and a citywide visioning process.
Her opponent is Michael Quill, 50, a retired Gulfport police officer. Since he retired in 2001, Quill has managed a small strip center his family owns in the gateway area of downtown Dunedin and has operated Q&A Productions Inc., a film production company that has produced one documentary. Quill's knowledge of city government is superficial. Scales is better equipped to tackle the issues facing Dunedin.
For Seat 1, the Times recommends Julie Scales.
Seat 2: Tony Scruton
Two men who lost previous elections for the City Commission are competing for this two-year seat that completes Kynes' unfinished term.
Tony Scruton, 66, ran last year. He has used the intervening year to improve his familiarity with city government. Ron Barnette, 66, ran in 2006.
These are two very different candidates, but each has done something disappointing. Barnette, a retired professor of philosophy from Valdosta State University, mishandled a campaign contribution in 2006 and was fined by the state. Scruton has embellished or been vague in describing his former career to voters.
In this race between two imperfect candidates, we recommend Scruton and hope that his business experience and practical nature help him grow into the job of commissioner.
Scruton moved to Dunedin from Tarpon Springs 11 years ago. For 25 years he worked in the thoroughbred horse racing business, primarily training race horses owned by others. He employed grooms, assistant trainers and riders — as many as 30 people during his best years, he said. After retiring from horse racing in 1987, he owned a business selling classic car parts until 2006. He is a member of several community organizations and served on the Sign Code Board of Appeal.
For Seat 2, the Times recommends Tony Scruton.
Seat 3: Dave Carson
Both candidates for Seat 3 have much to offer, but Dave Carson, who has the stronger record of community involvement and is conversant on all city issues, gets our vote.
Carson, 53, has lived in Dunedin nine years and since 1998 has owned Carson Pest Control in Dunedin. An Illinois native, Carson moved to Tampa in 1982 and was hired as a salesman for Young Pest Control. Within eight years, he was president of the company.
His leadership skills have been recognized in other venues as well. Carson has been president of the Dunedin Council of Organizations and chairman of the board of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. He has been tapped by the city to serve on the Board of Adjustments and Appeals, the Stadium Advisory Committee and the Stadium Naming Rights Committee.
Carson has taken a great interest in city issues as a resident, often attending meetings and calling city staff or commissioners to educate himself or offer his opinion. He has taken a particular interest in budget issues, creek pollution and stormwater flooding in Dunedin.
Carson's opponent is John Tornga, 62, a Michigan native who moved to Dunedin 17 years ago. Tornga operates Capital Data Consulting Inc., a home-based computer consulting firm, but he has held executive management positions with companies in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has an MBA from Michigan State University and was a U.S. Marine Corps captain.
Tornga has an exceptional resume, but he has little involvement in the community outside of his church and he is not nearly as familiar with city issues as Carson. We hope Tornga will continue to educate himself about city affairs and run again.
For Seat 3, the Times recommends Dave Carson.
Opportunity to respond: Candidates not recommended may submit a written response for publication. Responses may be no more than 300 words and may not attack opponents. They should be submitted by 5 p.m. Tuesday to Diane Steinle, St. Petersburg Times, 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Or they may be faxed to (727) 445-4119 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.