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Unions back two candidates

Unions of city employees have endorsed Rita Garvey as mayor and Sue Berfield as commissioner for the upcoming city elections. Peter Fire, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10, said Berfield and Garvey both appeared sensitive to two main concerns of the unions: the need to maintain a strong pension system and the proposed sale of the city's gas division. The coalition of unions is opposed to selling the gas division, which some commissioners have proposed.

"I think it's a very positive statement from my point of view," Garvey said. "I've been telling people for how many months that there are employee morale problems and that they need to be addressed."

Her challenger, City Commissioner Don Winner, declined to comment. Fire said Winner wasn't a bad candidate, but union leaders felt Garvey was better.

"I was very pleased about it," Berfield said. She is among five seeking the commission seat that Winner is vacating in his quest for the mayor's job.

Garvey and Berfield both have said they have reservations about the idea of selling the city's gas division.

The gas division has been put up for sale because several commissioners long have complained that the system is not marketed properly and should be more profitable.

Garvey said that if there is a problem with the gas division, the city should fix the problem, not sell the system. Berfield said she believes the system could earn more money if the city hired a marketing expert.

"It's a good point," Fire said. "Why not market it and get a better profit?"

Both candidates also seemed aware of the unions' concerns over the pension system. Fire said city employees are concerned with maintaining a strong pension system and are upset that the city administration would like to remove a provision that requires voters to approve any changes in the pension plan.

The endorsement came from a coalition of the city employee unions that includes the FOP Lodge 10, which represents rank-and-file police officers; a separate unit of the FOP that represents police sergeants and lieutenants; the Clearwater Fire Fighters Association; and the Communications Workers of America, which represents general city employees.

The election is March 13.

Garvey will face Winner. Berfield will face four other candidates: Jay F. Keyes, Frank Mason, Lee Savage and Robert E. Wright.

All have been invited to a forum at 7 tonight at the Clearwater Library East, 2251 Drew St., sponsored by the Coalition of Clearwater Homeowners Association.