The city of Zephyrhills is a well-run municipality that has escaped many of the most severe budget challenges that have confronted other local governments. Though revenues have declined, the city property tax rate is lower today than it was 10 years ago and Zephyrhills has been able to avoid employee layoffs that translate to reduced public services. Notably, the city is growing through an annexation effort that is attracting existing neighborhoods into the city boundaries.
Against that setting, voters head to the polls April 9 to fill two council seats and the strongest candidates are the ones that will continue the city on its current path, incumbents Kent Compton and Lance Smith.
Seat 3, Kent Compton
Compton, 48, an assistant state attorney based in Dade City, demonstrates common-sense decisionmaking. He and a council majority correctly scuttled an attempt to move the city library two blocks over to Fifth Avenue, and the same majority made the difficult political decision to begin impeachment proceedings against the then-mayor accused of sexually harassing subordinates at his school principal's job.
Compton lists job creation as a top priority and thinks the city is well-positioned to exploit economic opportunities via a new partnership with the chamber of commerce and the amenities offered by a city-owned airport with adjoining industrial park. He wants to refurbish city parks and create a park for the city's north side.
A seven-year council member, Compton is facing his first electoral challenge from Rose Hale, 45, who moved to the city 18 months ago to open Rose's Cafe, a downtown eatery. Hale shows good intentions and speaks highly of the city's attributes. Her platform also includes advocating for greater recreational opportunities for children and a better climate for small business owners. She offers vague criticisms of the city infrastructure, saying it is not prepared for growth, but does not detail specific solutions or ideas on how to pay for upgrades.
Compton's experience and broader knowledge of civic issues makes him the better candidate. The Times recommends Kent Compton.
Seat 1, Lance Smith
The race between incumbent Lance Smith, 50, and former council member Manny Funes, 68, has turned into an ugly affair. Funes made allegations of fraud against Smith and the incumbent responded with a promised defamation lawsuit.
The brouhaha centers on an abandoned attempt by the city and private sector to partner in developing an industrial spec building to lure new businesses to Zephyrhills. Smith's company won the competitive bid for the job before he joined council, but Funes, a former law enforcement officer, questioned the billings to the city and turned over his research to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement 15 months ago. Its investigation remains open.
The allegations are troublesome and Smith should offer a full accounting of exactly how his companies conducted business rather than shifting accountability to his partners. Equally troubling is Funes' credibility. Some of his documentation and suspicions fall apart under closer scrutiny, including who signed city checks to the private company (not Smith) and why Smith and his partners even formed two separate firms for the project. (The city attorney recommended it.)
Funes doesn't limit his criticism to Smith and also berates Steve Spina, the former city manager, and Compton, as a prosecutor/council member, for not riding herd on the project. It exemplifies an unfortunate trait that overshadows Funes' council record of constituent service — he always seems to be picking fights.
Smith makes consensus-building a key to his platform by promising to work with the Pasco School Board, state leaders and the Pasco County staff on recreational, transportation and job-development issues facing the city. He wants the city to lend a hand to residential areas needing clean-ups because of foreclosed properties and he is seeking to improve sidewalks and trail links within Zephyrhills.
Smith's normally level-headed thinking is an asset to the council, but the controversy over the spec building demonstrates the dangers of mixing public and private business. The project began in 2007 and Smith didn't join the council until two years later when he ran unopposed for a vacant seat. Even though he has abstained from voting on matters tied to the project, the dual roles should have been avoided.
The choice between Funes and Smith should give voters pause, but at this time the incumbent is the more credible candidate. The Times recommends Lance Smith for Zephyrhills City Council.
The Tampa Bay Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Zephyrhills City Council should send their replies by no later than 5 p.m. Friday to: C.T. Bowen, Pasco/Hernando editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668; by fax: (727) 869-6233; or by email to [email protected] Replies are limited to 150 words.