A new majority of the five-member Dunedin City Commission was elected automatically in June when no one filed to run against Bruce Livingston, John Tornga and Deborah Kynes. That left one city contest for the Nov. 4 ballot: the race for mayor between sitting commissioners Julie Ward Bujalski and Julie Scales.
The winner will finish out the two years remaining in the term of Mayor Dave Eggers, who is running for the Pinellas County Commission. The person who loses the mayoral race will leave the City Commission.
Dunedin voters are fortunate to have two candidates for mayor who are longtime elected officials and deeply invested in the city and its welfare. Bujalski, 48, a former economic forecaster for Patchington, has lived in Dunedin for about 43 years and has been a commissioner for eight years. Scales, 69, who heads the Pinellas Community Foundation, has lived in the city for 30 years and has been a commissioner 11 years.
While both have a good base of experience, we believe Bujalski's work ethic, her understanding of the community's diverse needs, her ability to work well with others and her desire to be a positive booster for the city make her the best choice for mayor.
Bujalski watched City Commission meetings for several years before running the first time — a preview of the kind of effort she would devote to the job once elected. She studies agenda items, collects additional information and comes to meetings prepared with questions for staff. On difficult agenda items, she explains her vote for the public. She regularly offers alternatives or better approaches, and does the same when representing Dunedin on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The city has benefitted from her creative thinking. It was Bujalski who pushed for a Jolley Trolley route from Clearwater Beach up the North Pinellas coastline. She came up with funding ideas and persuaded officials from other North Pinellas cities to get onboard. The trolley, popular with both locals and tourists, has brought new customers to shops and restaurants in Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs.
Bujalski believes in taking action when the city's interests are at stake. Ask her what she would have done when the Toronto Blue Jays began exploring other spring training homes and the team's owner wouldn't return the mayor's phone calls, and she doesn't hesitate: "I would have gotten on a plane to Toronto," she says. Now that the team seems open to remaining in Dunedin, Bujalski already is thinking ahead to ways the city can build a closer relationship with the Blue Jays — more like Clearwater has with the Philadelphia Phillies, she said.
Bujalski has a lengthy list of items she wants to lead on if she's elected mayor, including working with the county on the design of the new Dunedin Causeway Bridge to ensure it preserves the causeway beaches; creating a public parking plan for downtown; finalizing a revitalization plan for State Road 580; raising the city's contribution to the business facade improvement program to promote participation; working with property owners to encourage development of vacant lots on commercial corridors; creating incentives for residents to connect to the city sewer system instead of relying on polluting septic tanks; and continuing her work and the city's efforts to address crime and code enforcement issues on the city's south side.
Both Scales and Bujalski are strong supporters of the Greenlight Pinellas plan to raise the sales tax 1 cent for a better bus system countywide and a light rail line from St. Petersburg to Clearwater.
Scales' platform is more limited than Bujalski's activist approach. Scales tends to take a "wait and see" attitude on some issues, such as dealing with the Blue Jays. Her priority list includes beefing up city reserve funds, holding a community visioning session, and making sure that the Gateway and Nielsen properties are developed according to city values.
Bujalski, who calls herself "the average Dunedin resident," wants to be a mayor who represents all residents and neighborhoods equally, emphasizes transparency and makes sure City Hall is "a friendly place to come to." For mayor of Dunedin, the Times recommends Julie Ward Bujalski.