Municipal voters head to the polls April 8 to settle contested races in Pasco four largest cities. Here are the candidate recommendations from the Tampa Bay Times in these nonpartisan contests:
New Port Richey
Voters in Pasco's largest city will select a new mayor to fill the post being vacated by incumbent Bob Consalvo. Two former council members, Rob Marlowe and Bob Langford, are both capable of doing the job and offer similar views on redevelopment, crime and business recruitment.
Langford, 71, is a semi-retired sound recording engineer with an extensive resume of community involvement, including forming a new nonprofit to assist with the redevelopment of the old Hacienda Hotel property. He served nine years as a council member and is making his third run for mayor. Among other things, he wants to restart the Community Redevelopment Agency's matching grant program to spruce up commercial and residential property, and he advocates for inexpensive ways to enhance to city's image such as gateway signs and U.S. 19 landscaping.
Marlowe, 60, the chief financial officer of a downtown business, Gulfcoast Networking, is the stronger candidate and offers a broader vision. He served two terms on council before stepping down last year and correctly identified a lack of focus as a substantial drawback to New Port Richey's progress. Significant early enthusiasm for particular projects (the Hacienda Hotel clean-up and a business incubator at the former post office, for instance) is often stymied by a council distracted by other issues. Marlowe wants to rein in the distractions, schedule more workshops to build council consensus and establish realistic time lines to complete proposed projects. He also advocates a rewrite of the city's zoning plan to identify suitable business locations, with the area surrounding the former Community Hospital site as a primary focus, and stronger code enforcement to keep business properties safe and visually attractive. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Rob Marlowe for New Port Richey mayor.
Voters in Port Richey can pick stability and professional governing in re-electing Mayor Eloise Taylor or they can select Kathy Todd, a recent transplant to the city offering nonspecific criticisms about wasteful spending. Todd, 47, a U.S. Navy police officer, just registered to vote in the city 18 months ago and declined to be interviewed by the Times. Her chief campaign backer is Dale Massad, a onetime council member who personified the cronyism and political favoritism that formerly permeated City Hall and gave Port Richey government a tarnished reputation.
Taylor, 71, an attorney, won a special election in 2000 and was re-elected to two full terms before an election loss in 2005. Voters returned her to office in a special election to fill a mayoral vacancy in 2012. Her leadership focused on restoring public faith and eliminating corruption in a city, stained by a critical grand jury report, that had been notorious for governing by personal acquaintance rather than sound public policy. She fought the demise of the Police Department; led the repeal of a bingo ordinance crafted to benefit a special interest; and eventually led the council in dismissing a city manager mired in unprofessional behavior.
If re-elected, she wants to work toward dredging the city's waterways, continue improving aging infrastructure and permanently lower water rates. Voters should give her the opportunity to do so. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Eloise Taylor for re-election as Port Richey mayor.
Incumbent Scott Black, 49, an insurance agent, faces a re-election challenge for only the second time since he joined the commission in 1990. Black has been instrumental in much of the city's progress whether advocating for tourist tax advertising for the downtown district, recruiting a hotel to the city, completing the Roy Hardy bicycle trail or partnering with Pasco County on a new business incubator. Black is particularly fond of historic preservation and his efforts helped the city acquire and restore the rail depot that was the first site in the county named to the National Register of Historic Places. It now doubles as the temporary city hall. Black also worked with the county on restoration of the county courthouse that is the downtown centerpiece and later prevailed in a battle to spare the ancient oak trees at the courthouse square.
Most importantly, Block is a beacon for ethical behavior and good government that this commission needs. He is opposed by Angelica Herrera, 54, a manager for Catholic Charities, who already has displayed poor judgment and a lack of accountability. She declined an interview with the Times and walked out of a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate after confessing her ignorance of the issues and proclaiming the forum to be "biased'' and "unfair.'' If Herrera plans to be as detached from her constituents as she is from her candidacy, then the city would be poorly served by her election.
The Tampa Bay Times recommends voters re-elect Scott Black to the Dade City Commission, group one.
Jodi Wilkeson, 53, owner of the architectural firm WDA Design Group, is facing her first contested re-election after six years in office. She brings a high energy level to the job and her knowledge of redevelopment issues is an asset. She is opposed by Alan Knight, 68, a retired school principal with deep roots in the community. Knight served at one time as the Zephyrhills High School football coach and is chairman of the city's Parks and Recreation Board. Knight is the father of Times sports writer Joey Knight.
Wilkeson and Knight are capable public servants and there are many similarities in their platforms. Both advocate for the city controlling the former Hercules Aquatic Center and restoring it to a public park. Both want responsible growth and both support strong public safety. Both also suggest (wrongly) that the city should start an ambulance transport service as a money-maker. State law requires Pasco County's blessing before a municipal transport service can begin and an expanded public safety network should focus on response times, not accounts receivable.
We have not always agreed with Wilkeson's voting record, notably on the question of a mayoral impeachment and also on a troubling proposal to acquire a vacant bank building as a library site. But what distinguishes Wilkeson is her vision beyond traditional municipal concerns to include social services advocacy and devising a strategy to address homelessness in the city and surrounding community. It's a broader view that makes her the preferable candidate. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Jodi Wilkeson for Zephyrhills City Council, seat two.