Read all of the Times' recommendations for the Aug. 26 primary at www.tampabay.com/opinion
The Pinellas County Commission will face several challenges, including working with a new county administrator, dealing with the homeless and seeking long-term solutions for an expensive emergency medical services system. One race is open to all county voters and will be decided in the Aug. 26 primary; the other two are Republican primaries and the winners will advance to the Nov. 4 general election. Primary voters also will make a decision on a referendum concerning tax breaks for economic development.
District 4 (North Pinellas)
Seven Republicans seek to succeed retiring Commissioner Susan Latvala in District 4, which includes Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Oldsmar and East Lake. Three candidates are in the top tier of fundraising and name recognition. The edge goes to Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers for his knowledge of the issues, local government background and leadership skills.
Eggers, 57, was a Dunedin commissioner for six years before being elected mayor in 2009. He runs a commercial real estate business and is known for his optimism, consensus-building and conservative spending. Eggers worked persistently to keep the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin for spring training. With Safety Harbor's mayor, he formed a group of North Pinellas mayors and city managers to look for ways to consolidate services and collaborate on projects. In 2011 Eggers voted against keeping fluoride in the city's drinking water — a vote he now calls "a mistake and a regret on my part" and one he has learned from. Eggers supports improved mass transit, new strategies for recruiting businesses and more effective programs for reducing homelessness.
Johnny Johnson, 58, is a Palm Harbor dentist making his first bid for elected office. He helped lead a successful campaign to persuade county commissioners to return fluoride to the county drinking water. Johnson showed commendable leadership on that issue, and he supports the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum. But his knowledge of county issues is superficial, and his learning curve would be steep.
Peter Nehr, 62, is a former Tarpon Springs city commissioner and state legislator who knows state and local issues. He says he learned from his 2012 legislative defeat and is less combative, but he has had poor personal judgment in the past. Now running a one-person medical supplies delivery service, he has twice filed for bankruptcy and used campaign funds in 2012 to pay his live-in girlfriend $22,000 for "consulting." The other candidates in this race: Jim Ronecker, 49, a former mayor and current City Council member in Oldsmar; Tim Keffalas, 59, who has a small digital printing business in Tarpon Springs; Largo firefighter/EMT Macho Liberti, 35; and Wanda Kimsey, 59, who worked as an assistant to county commissioners for more than 30 years.
The winner of this race faces one Democrat and two no-party candidates in November. With his strong business background and municipal experience, Eggers could provide a new perspective on the County Commission. In the Republican primary for Pinellas County Commission District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Dave Eggers.
District 2 (countywide)
Incumbent Norm Roche rode the tea party wave into office in 2010 and wants a second term. The better choice in the Republican primary is state Rep. Ed Hooper of Clearwater. The winner of the primary will face Democrat Pat Gerard, Largo's mayor, in the Nov. 4 general election.
Hooper, 66, is a former firefighter/paramedic who was a Clearwater city commissioner from 1996-2000 and has been in the Legislature since 2006. Like Roche, he opposes the Greenlight Pinellas transit plan. But Hooper also has thoughtful ideas about overhauling the Emergency Medical Services system, improving code enforcement and attracting manufacturing jobs.
Roche, 52, a former county employee, has been a divisive commissioner. He voted to stop adding fluoride to the county's drinking water and was the only commissioner last year who refused to resume adding it. He used his county-issued credit card so cavalierly that commissioners had to adopt new rules. Under a pseudonym, Roche posted offensive online attacks on his board colleagues. His term has been marked by grandstanding and pandering to his tea party base.
As a Clearwater commissioner, Hooper was progressive and collaborative. In the Legislature, he developed particular expertise in transportation and economic development. In the Republican primary for Pinellas County Commission District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ed Hooper.
District 6 (Mid/South Pinellas)
Only Republicans filed to run for this seat, so the winner will be decided in the Aug. 26 primary between three-term incumbent John Morroni and first-time candidate Tom Rask. Morroni is the only responsible choice.
Morroni, 59, of Treasure Island, is collaborative and even-tempered. He serves on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and expects to be chairman next year of the Pinellas Tourist Development Council, which faces big decisions on how to spend the county's hotel bed tax. He voted with the commission majority in 2012 to remove fluoride from the county's drinking water. He says he made a mistake, and he voted last year to resume adding fluoride. He supports the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum, the Safe Harbor facility for the homeless and affordable housing. If he is re-elected, Morroni said it would be his last term. Rask, 50, of Seminole, runs a Web publishing business. He has been an outspoken critic of county government, and his penchant for overstatement and contentiousness make it unlikely he could be a positive force. Rask supported taking fluoride out of the water, opposes the transit referendum and praises Commissioner Norm Roche. All registered voters in District 6, which includes northeast St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, and parts of Seminole and the South Pinellas beaches, can vote in this race. For Pinellas County Commission District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends John Morroni.
Yes on business tax exemption
The Aug. 26 ballot includes a referendum question asking if the Pinellas County Commission may grant tax exemptions for new or expanding businesses that promise new, full-time jobs in the county. The Florida Constitution gives local governments the authority to grant such exemptions if a majority of voters agree.
Under state law, the tax exemption could be for up to 100 percent of the assessed value of improvements made to real property (land and buildings) and tangible property (such as furniture and machinery) by or for a new or expanding business. The exemption could last for up to 10 years. Unlike with certain state tax incentive programs, the name of the business seeking the tax break would be public.
Voters in at least 38 counties, including Hillsborough and Sarasota, and 20 cities, including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Largo, have approved the tax exemption program. Pinellas County needs a level playing field. On the Pinellas tax exemption referendum, the Tampa Bay Times recommends a yes vote.