Two longtime leaders in Dunedin, Mayor Bob Hackworth and Commissioner Deborah Kynes, worked their last regular Dunedin City Commission meeting Thursday. They will make only one more appearance with that body: the commission's April 2 meeting, at which their replacements will be sworn in. Hackworth and Kynes were intelligent, hardworking city officials whose dedication and thinking will be missed.
Hackworth could have run for re-election, but he is leaving the mayor's post because he promised residents that if he ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress last November and lost, he would not try to hang on to the mayor's post. He ran, he lost, and he is gracefully departing.
When Hackworth first ran for office, few thought he would win. He was a virtual unknown. Though he grew up there, he had lived away from the city for years while training and competing as a professional runner and cyclist.
When he returned to Dunedin, he saw much that concerned him. The waterfront was being developed with view-blocking condominiums. Some areas of the city looked rundown. City Hall seemed averse to public inquiry and input. He believed the city staff, under the direction of a city manager who had been in the job a long time, was on autopilot.
When Hackworth ran for the City Commission in 2002, those in power were less than welcoming and were sure he couldn't win. But he based his campaign on personal, door-to-door contact with voters and ended up the top finisher in a four-person race.
Hackworth endured a lot of frustration on the commission. He was consistently outvoted by the commission majority and was criticized as negative or abrasive. But his practical approach to governing, his determination to make city government more open, and his interest in including and serving all residents regardless of race or socioeconomic level won him fans. In 2005, he drew no challenger and was automatically returned to his commission seat. In 2006, he easily was elected mayor.
Hackworth can take pride in his accomplishments. Among them are greater inclusiveness and transparency in city government, a change in city managers that has brought new energy and ideas to City Hall, improvements in city facilities, and the purchase of land for a great waterfront park.
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Deborah Kynes also will leave office April 2, having lost a race for mayor to fellow commissioner Dave Eggers. From all accounts, Kynes has taken the loss hard, perhaps because she has been a commissioner so long.
Kynes was first elected in 1999. Unlike Hackworth, she was well-known when she first ran, having been a community volunteer for years. She won all but one precinct in the city that year and has served ever since.
Kynes was the commissioner who most often spoke about the need for collaboration. Being an elected official gave her the opportunity to serve on other boards and committees in Pinellas County and the state. She read a lot, talked to a lot of people and brought back to the city ideas for new initiatives or creative ways to solve the city's problems.
She also kept a close eye on state and national issues that could affect Dunedin — indeed, she brought a list to Thursday's commission meeting. She urged the remaining commissioners to keep their eyes on bills in the Legislature that could cap city government revenues, force elimination of impact fees, reduce protections for wetlands and limit rules that control unbridled growth in Florida.
It is difficult to lose experienced hands like Hackworth and Kynes, especially when city governments are facing enormous challenges because of the economy and state-mandated caps on revenue. Fortunately, the new mayor, Dave Eggers, is an experienced commissioner. He will be sworn in with two newcomers, Dave Carson and Ron Barnette. The newcomers will find out soon enough that being an elected official is a very tough job, especially in the current environment.
Hackworth and Kynes, who did their best to serve responsibly and conscientiously for so many years, deserve the thanks of Dunedin residents.