Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Editorials

New Port Richey voter turnout shows alarming apathy

RECOMMENDED READING


There is a lengthy and well-documented to-do list for New Port Richey City Council, which is gaining an old-hand, former council member Bill Phillips, and retaining four-year incumbent Judy DeBella Thomas as a result of Tuesday's municipal election.

Most of the difficult tasks are familiar: redeveloping Community Hospital; completing an agreement to restore the former Hacienda Hotel; luring private-sector interest in the former First Baptist Church property at Orange Lake; aiding the completion of Main Street Landings; and balancing a city budget that is stressed by falling property values and a general fund that is subsidizing its debt-laden Community Redevelopment Agency.

But the chore list just got a longer. As evidenced by the paltry voter turn-out Tuesday, New Port Richey City Council needs to re-engage its citizenry. More than 94 percent of the electorate didn't bother to cast ballots in the three-person race to fill two council seats. By contrast, Dade City, with two commission seats also up for grabs, had a turnout percentage nearly three times as high as New Port Richey.

The apathy is an embarrassing reflection on the city as a whole. DeBella Thomas characterized her 49-vote re-election margin as an affirmation of voters' satisfaction with her performance. Her logic, however, fails to acknowledge her vote total has fallen each year she has been on the ballot. DeBella Thomas, the only candidate to receive a campaign contribution from a political party (Republican) in the nonpartisan election, received just 288 votes Tuesday, a nearly 30 percent decline from her first-time candidacy in 2008.

The problem here is not the candidate. It is the electorate. The 525 voters who cast ballots in Tuesday's election represent just half of the 2008 turnout and the total is off by nearly two-thirds from 2004 when more than 1,400 people voted.

Certainly the April election date diminishes turnout in each of Pasco's municipalities, but New Port Richey also is handicapped by: inactive public interest groups that don't schedule candidate forums; a status quo downtown redevelopment agenda that has lingered for years; the long-running Chasco Fiesta that distracts attention from the city campaigns, and, most importantly, a large transient population of renters who do not feel vested in city affairs.

Both Phillips and DeBella Thomas offered neighborhood-friendly platform planks during the campaign. DeBella Thomas hopes to encourage greater home ownership and perhaps strengthen the city's landlord registry to bolster code enforcement. Phillips wants to rekindle neighborhood planning and identity-building as part of the city's redevelopment strategy. Their visions, however, will be limited by the CRA debt that curbed the fix-up grants for exterior home improvements and will force all city departments to cut expenses by 10 percent in the coming budget year.

People disenfranchised within their own residential surroundings certainly will be disenfranchised on Election Day. Trying to put a renewed focus on neighborhoods is one way to connect to a constituency beyond downtown property owners and business interests.

DeBella Thomas, Phillips and the rest of the New Port Richey City Council will know if voters are truly satisfied with the city's progress under their leadership if more than 525 people show up for the next municipal election.

Comments

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nationís budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more ó s...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nationís highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17
Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

From birth to death, opioid addiction is ravaging the lives of thousands of Floridians. Drugmakers, doctors, state lawmakers and insurance companies all have a role to play in slowing the epidemic. Lately some more responsible answers, including mill...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/21/17

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "Iím pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Wage hike for contractorsí labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractorsí labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise ó for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system ó one for men, another for wo...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Krisemanís new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Krisemanís new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Krisemanís own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17