The last time voters elected a new face for the County Commission, District 3, President Reagan was in the White House, Trinity was still a cattle ranch and Pasco County was a Democratic Party stronghold.
That was 1984, and voters picked a former social worker from Michigan, Ann Hildebrand, to represent southwest Pasco. She is now retiring after a stellar 28-year career on the commission, and the difficult task of trying to fill her shoes will fall to either Republican Kathryn Starkey or Democrat Matt Murphy. The election is countywide. Hildebrand prefers Starkey. So do we.
Starkey, 54, won a five-way Republican primary in August and remains the strongest candidate in the general election field. (The other commission seats up for election this year were decided during the primaries.)
A former member of the Pasco School Board, Starkey is seeking to return to her roots of developing county policy. As a private citizen in the late 1990s, she pushed to control billboard proliferation and founded Scenic Pasco, which championed other aesthetic controls on bus benches, business signs and big-box stores, all of which were approved by commissioners.
She helped rewrite the county's land-use plan, crafted county ordinances as a member of the citizens review committee, and worked on environmental and budget issues as a seven-year member of the Pinellas-Anclote River Basin Board. She joined the School Board in 2004 and, among other things, advocated for the colocation of county and school recreational facilities and for rules tying new home construction to available classroom space. Now an adviser to a business development firm, she understands the need for schools, county and industrial recruiters to work in tandem to improve job opportunities in Pasco.
The Starkey family, which developed the Longleaf new town community, is now divesting itself of much of its developable ranch land on the north side of State Road 54 in Odessa. Starkey's ties to the development community is one of the items her opponent, Democrat Matt Murphy, has highlighted as a shortcoming. Starkey points out her antibillboard and Scenic Pasco agenda put her at odds with many businesses, so it is incorrect to assume she will favor development interests as a commissioner.
Murphy, 42, a former state committeeman for the Democratic Party, is smart and hardworking. However, he travels to the Northeast United States for his job as a project manager for a utility contractor and has not had the time to study the issues nor run an effective campaign.
He said he would lower or put a moratorium on school impact fees — the same special-interest-driven idea shot down by a commission majority last year. Murphy also acknowledged telling the Board of Realtors he favored Florida Constitution Amendment 4 providing additional property tax breaks for homeowners, but last week said he learned more about the issue and was undecided, though leaning against Amendment 4.
He is not disingenuous, just pressed for time and ill-prepared. He would do well to become more familiar with the specific challenges facing Pasco County and trying again for public office in the future.
Starkey won't need to brush up on the issues and can hit the ground running. For Pasco County Commission District 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kathryn Starkey.
Opportunity to reply
The Times offers candidates not recommend by its editorial board an opportunity to respond. Replies should be sent by 5 p.m. Tuesday to C.T. Bowen, Pasco/Hernando editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668. By fax to 727-869-6233 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Replies are limited to 150 words.