District 4, Republicans
Controversial incumbent County Commissioner Susan Latvala would have been vulnerable to a strong primary opponent, but Republicans have not fielded a strong challenger. Among three candidates on the Aug. 24 Republican primary ballot in District 4, Latvala remains the best choice.
Latvala, 61, was elected to the County Commission in 2000 after serving eight years on the School Board. She is prone to dismissive or scolding comments, and she has been accused of not giving enough attention to District 4, which covers most of North Pinellas. For much of her current term she was the target of environmental activists outraged over her decisions about land use in the Brooker Creek Preserve. And in 2007 she voted for the notorious land deal between the county and former Property Appraiser Jim Smith.
But Latvala's record also includes pushing for desperately needed limits on pain clinics, working to ensure an adequate potable water supply for the region and supporting consolidation of county services. She gets credit for advocating a county charter amendment that, though it has some deficiencies, requires a referendum before the county can sell park or environmental land. She is a former president of the Florida Association of Counties and serves on the board of Tampa Bay Water.
Former Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris, 62, owns a business on the Tarpon Sponge Docks and also teaches elementary school. She was elected to the Tarpon Springs City Commission in 1998, ran for mayor in 2004 and left that post this year because of term limits.
While Billiris did fine as mayor, it isn't clear that she is equipped to make the big leap from small-town mayor to commissioner of a county with the complex issues that confront Pinellas. And though Billiris has been unofficially running for Latvala's seat for a couple of years, she still lacks a firm grasp of some issues.
Carl Folkman, 44, is a wine and spirits broker who criticizes the county's money management. But he has financial troubles of his own, with three foreclosure actions filed against his Crystal Beach home and a rental property. Folkman hasn't been able to mount much of a campaign, and his knowledge of county government is superficial at best.
That leaves Latvala as the only practical choice for Republicans. In the Republican primary for Pinellas County Commission District 4, the Times recommends Susan Latvala.