Saturday, July 21, 2018
Editorials

Times recommends: Robertson, Wells for Pasco County Commission

Pasco County faces significant challenges ahead. It wants to improve its transportation network, attract higher-paying jobs, satisfy public safety concerns, start redeveloping west Pasco and try to restore county services to pre-2008 levels when the prolonged budget constraints took hold. The outcome of county commission races on the Aug. 26 ballot could go a long way toward shaping the county's future. Candidates are elected countywide, but must reside in their individual districts.

Bob Robertson, District 2, Republicans

Three Republicans are vying to replace retiring Commissioner Pat Mulieri in District 2 based in central Pasco. The winner of this primary faces Democrat Erika J. Remsberg in November.

Bob Robertson, 57, is the top candidate for Republicans. He displays a broader and deeper knowledge of the issues confronting the county than his two opponents. His diverse volunteering runs from social services advocacy (board of directors of the Samaritan Project, a group addressing homeless prevention in Zephyrhills) to business, tourism and environmental concerns (the county's RESTORE Act Advisory Committee that reviews and recommends county projects tied to funding from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico) to existing county government services (the county's Library Advisory Board). His independence is best illustrated by his decision to decline campaign contributions from companies doing business with the county.

Robertson, who owns a financial advisory business, wants to explore using volunteers to increase code enforcement, restore library operating hours to their prior levels and boost park funding by assessing higher fees to out-of-county residents. All are ideas worth pursuing.

His opponents include Mike Moore, 43, who built and sold a successful home health care company and now owns a business brokerage firm. Though he's never won elected office, Moore already comes across as a slick politician — collecting personal endorsements from elected Republican officials, hoarding sizeable campaign contributions ($8,000 bundled by companies tied to the developers of Trinity), and failing to offer substantial ideas beyond opposition to tax increases. He thinks the diminished library hours are just fine and believes the county simply can grow its way out of its budget doldrums. He offers a reckless notion to finance road construction by spending reserves earmarked for other highway projects. Depleting your savings account is hardly the mark of sound fiscal policy.

Ken Littlefield, 70, brings the resume with the most government experience: state legislator, a brief tenure on the Public Service Commission and then director of the now-defunct Statewide Advocacy Council, an independent group that protected the constitutional and human rights of people receiving services from state agencies. He presents a sometimes moderate platform to either reallocate Penny for Pasco revenue or consider a tax increase to finance road maintenance, and he states unequivocally that growth must pay for itself.

Unfortunately, he offers little innovation. Littlefield says he wants to join the commission to make government policy, but the only one he can name is his proposal to take commission meetings on the road, which, he said, will allow a greater number of constituents the opportunity to witness and participate firsthand in local governing.

In the District 2 Republican primary for Pasco County commission, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Bob Robertson.

District 4, Mike Wells

The race for county commission District 4, based in west Pasco, features two Republicans, but is open to all voters because there is no Democratic candidate. The winner of the Aug. 26 universal primary wins the commission seat.

A change is needed in this district where incumbent Commissioner Henry Wilson, 40, remains ineffective four years after unexpectedly winning the job. He advocates for recycling at each commission meeting, but has been reticent to push the board toward franchising trash pick-up to provide better service, lower cost and greater recycling opportunities for the public. He is pleasant and a favorite of county employees for his work days in county jobs, but his call for an unscheduled paid day off at Christmas 2011 carried an unbudgeted public cost of nearly $300,000.

Too frequently, his positions are contrarian. During last year's budget deliberations, Wilson advocated for employee raises that totaled $5 million then voted against setting a higher property tax rate to pay for them, and later declined to support spending cuts to balance the proposed budget. When an exasperated Commissioner Ted Schrader called Wilson disingenuous, Wilson admitted he wasn't ready to cut spending because he hadn't finished reading the proposed budget — five weeks after receiving it. Being ill-prepared to conduct the public's business is inexcusable.

This year, he said he supports reallocation of the existing gas tax revenue for ongoing road maintenance, but he voted against that plan in 2013, on the same evening he and Commissioner Jack Mariano killed a proposed gasoline tax increase. Wilson also said he supports a higher property tax for transportation, but adds a highly questionable caveat. The county also should use documentary stamp taxes on real estate transactions to pay for roads, he said. It's an ill-advised idea that would require Legislature approval in Tallahassee to put just a few million dollars into transportation funding each year, but cripple the county's affordable housing program that benefits from those dollars now.

Wilson is opposed by first-time candidate Mike Wells, a familiar name because his father is the Pasco County property appraiser and former two-term county commissioner. The younger Wells, who turns 43 later this month, is a real estate agent and formerly held management roles for Enterprise Rent-A-Car overseeing 10 locations in three counties. In that capacity, he developed business partnerships, grew revenue, devised strategic business plans and fostered strong customer service — the same ideals Pasco County government is striving to attain.

Wells' platform is short on specifics. He opposes a property tax increase for transportation, but doesn't offer a suitable alternative. Despite this ambiguity and his lack of government experience, Wells shows more promise than the incumbent. In the District 4 Pasco County Commission race, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mike Wells.

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