Pasco County government is retooling its standard operating procedures to entice high-end economic development, plan for regional transit, increase transparency and bolster community input into how the commission and its staff conduct business.
Simultaneously, it is shedding staff, cutting costs and adopting new fees to compensate for a $14 million decline in the general fund this year and a three-year free-fall of its tax base that has seen property values drop by a third.
On Nov. 2, voters will be asked to fill two four-year terms on the county commission with the incumbents Pat Mulieri in District 2 and Michael Cox in District 4, both of whom have helped oversee the turnaround. Or, voters can select a pair of electoral challengers who want to dismiss the county administrator, put a moratorium on development orders and who criticize the status quo without offering substantial ideas on how to improve it.
The Times recommends Commissioners Pat Mulieri and Michael Cox for re-election.
District 2: Pat Mulieri
We have concerns about the past performance of four-term incumbent Republican Mulieri, 72. She has been detached, misrepresented herself on multiple issues, and pandered to gain political points — most recently by trying to amend the proposed county budget to benefit veterans before the document had even been submitted for review.
At a recent candidate forum, Mulieri apologized for not voting for the Penny for Pasco sales tax in March 2004 and said she was wrong not to do so.
Her act of contrition, however, did not include taking responsibility for misleading the public by falsely proclaiming her support for the tax from the commission dais just before the election.
Despite the shortcomings, Mulieri remains a hard-working commissioner and currently is meeting with the county's small industries to bolster the Pasco's attempts at economic gardening. She is solid on constituent service and has championed road construction to help ease congestion in her central Pasco-based district.
Clay Colson, 55, an environmental activist and self-employed contract laborer, gained notoriety in 1999 by opposing the rezoning of the Oakstead development in Land O'Lakes and the county's comprehensive plan. An administrative challenge from Citizens for Sanity brought a settlement that included citizen-friendly initiatives intended to diminish the influence of the building community on county planning decisions. But a key component — environmental corridors to protect wildlife — remains unfulfilled 10 years later.
Colson, running for the commission with no party affiliation, remains anti-growth, though he dubs it slow growth. He opposes the Ridge Road Extension, danced on the grave of the dormant Connerton new town development, and said the county still can't provide an inventory of its approved home sites even after a 2008 consultant's study said the county had allocated an exorbitant number of residential entitlements.
There is no doubt Colson would enhance the environmental conscience of the commission, but some of his past actions — including getting tossed from a Planning Commission meeting for interrupting from the audience and objecting to the plans for the proposed T. Rowe Price complex — is indicative of someone unable or unwilling to seek consensus. Obstruction will not move the county forward.
The Times recommends Republican Pat Mulieri for Commission District 2.
District 4: Michael Cox
Onetime Port Richey mayor Michael Cox, a Democrat, joined the commission four years ago and hit the ground running with a sinkhole task force to track insurance claims, bolster construction standards, and lobby for state legislative assistance.
Cox, 46, hasn't looked back since and focused his energy on multiple endeavors from boosting Animals Services with a non-profit affiliate to working on industrial recruiting to diversify Pasco's economy from its overreliance on residential home building and the low-wage service jobs that accompany it.
We haven't agreed with all of his positions, notably a willingness to weaken county commercial sign controls, a failure to advance residential recycling and a plan to resurrect proposed fees for fire service. But Cox has emerged as a commission leader and frequently makes use of financial planning background to provide expertise on economic matters before the board.
Cox is opposed by Republican first-time candidate Henry G. Wilson, 37, the managed care director for a medical diagnostic company. Wilson touts big ideas — a combination outdoor adventure/sports park along the State Road 54 corridor as a tourist attraction — but he confuses the roles of tourism and economic development. He also takes the unorthodox position of criticizing the commission for contributing to the current budget constraints by lowering the property tax rate during the previous boom years. He and said the public would have better served if the county built up reserves that could be used now.
Wilson is earnest, but simply doesn't have a strong grasp of the issues confronting Pasco County.
The Times strongly recommends Democrat Michael Cox for District 4 county commissioner.
Opportunity to respond
The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. County Commission candidates should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to C.T. Bowen, Pasco/Hernando editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668; by fax (727) 869-6233; or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Replies are limited to 250 words.