Talk to Port Richey businessman Ed Collins, and he will tell you that voters are disillusioned with the Pasco County Commission _ and for good reason. "The county commissioners, for the most part, are not in tune with what people want," says Collins, a Republican running for the commission's District 4 seat.
Sticking with that theme, Collins has zeroed in on the commission's rancorous budget disputes with Sheriff Jim Gillum, its spotty record attracting new business to Pasco and its trust in County Administrator John Gallagher.
Collins says the incumbent commissioner, Democrat Allan "Sonny" Safranek Jr., is "not representing the people of this county, and it's about time we woke up to that."
Safranek, a real estate agent who has served two four-year terms on the commission, responds to such charges the way he responds to almost everything _ calmly.
"I think that the longer you're an elected official probably the more controversial you become," he says. "You've touched more people with a decision, and they don't seem to remember the good decisions, just the ones that seem to have affected them negatively."
For Safranek, the challenge of this campaign has been getting voters to remember the "good decisions" _ the votes to build parks and libraries, to begin a countywide road construction program and to build water treatment and sewage treatment plants, a waste-to-energy incinerator and a jail.
Safranek is pleased with the county's progress so far, but he says he wants to ensure that each project is completed properly and on time. "You get caught up in the projects you've begun," he says. "I just don't want to walk away yet."
A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Collins moved to Pasco County five years ago to work as Florida sales and operations manager for Alliance Shippers, a transportation company based in West New York, N.J.
While in the New York area, Collins, 48, said he was "not actively involved in politics up there because it was such a maze."
After moving to Port Richey, though, he got involved, winning posts as a GOP precinct committeeman and as vice chairman of the Pasco County Republican Party.
Collins became more active in local affairs after watching the Pasco County Committee of 100's efforts to attract businesses to the area.
Collins calls the committee's current efforts as "window dressing" and says it suffers from a lack of county support.
"I think they should be more aggressive with their industrial development, and I mean set up some task forces with specific objectives," he says.
He also says the County Commission must be willing to offer companies better deals than they can get elsewhere.
"If we sincerely want business in here to broaden the tax base and have some balanced light industry, economic development, you've got to make concessions to industry," he says.
Collins also suggests that the commission's relationship with County Administrator John Gallagher has become too cozy.
"The main problem is that the county commissioners do not get involved with what happens in the county government," he recently told a group of homeowners in Shady Hills. "They leave it all up to the county administrator."
Collins said he would not try to fire Gallagher, but he does promise that "once I'm a commissioner, I'll review his track record."
When the conversation turns to the county's budget, Collins sounds a lot like Sheriff Jim Gillum, who says the commission has excess funds in reserve that it refuses to put to good use.
Gillum, who requested but did not receive a 54 percent budget increase this year, says commissioners have more than $20-million available that could be used to meet his budget requests and cut taxes. Pasco budget officials say reserves have been set aside for emergencies or to meet expenses anticipated.
Collins, asked what other specific suggestions he would make to reform the county's budget-making process, says, "I think all areas of county government have to be taken a look at."
He also complains that the county budget does not compare a department's proposed allocation against its performance for the past year. He wants that changed.
While Collins has shown support for the sheriff, he says he does not have an opinion whether Gillum's proposed budget was justified. Before the county's final budget hearing, Collins walked a picket line with sheriff's employees protesting Gillum's treatment by the County Commission.
"I think the shame of that is that the County Commission did not sit down and negotiate a settlement with him," Collins said. Asked what an appropriate settlement would have been, he said he does not know because "I don't know what the sheriff asked for."
With two weeks left to campaign, Collins has picked up endorsements from the local chapters of the Federation of Mobile Home Owners, the Fraternal Order of Police, Right to Life and the National Organization for Women. Each, he says, supports the idea that it is time for a change.
"Sonny had eight years to get involved," Collins says, "and I didn't see any evidence that he did get involved."
Allan Safranek Jr.
A lifelong Pasco resident, Allan Safranek can remember what Pasco was like long before the County Commission's ambitious building program of the past eight years.
As a schoolboy, Safranek had no parks or libraries to visit.
As a commissioner, Safranek, 44, has cast votes to build a countywide system of parks, libraries and other major public works projects. As a result, he says, life in Pasco has improved greatly.
"I'm pleased with the libraries that are on line, and I think we'll find that the subsequent libraries will be just as well-received," he says. "To see what modern facilities we have now for the youth _ the pools, playing fields _ I'm just really proud of it.
"It's been done in a very, very professional manner and first class," he adds. "I think it's going to serve Pasco's needs well into the future."
In focusing on the commission's accomplishments during his tenure, Safranek must overcome the hard feelings he left by voting to:
Approve a controversial proposal to let Outboard Marine Corp. build a marina on the Crown Canal.
Approve a rezoning that allowed an insurance agency to move into a former model home at Regency Park and Embassy boulevards.
Allow the sale of wine coolers at a store 900 feet from Deer Park Elementary School.
While Safranek acknowledges that each decision was unpopular with a particular group, he concludes that overall his votes have made Pasco a better place to live.
"If someone wants to look at my record, they can," he says.
Safranek, who has been endorsed by the Pasco Builders Association, also defends the commission's record against claims that individual commissioners should be more involved on a day-to-day basis.
He suggests that critics such as Collins have forgotten how bad county government was eight years ago.
In September 1982, shortly before Safranek's election, a grand jury issued a scathing report that found "widespread inefficiency and incompetence" in county government.
The grand jury said Commission Chairman Barry M. Doyle violated "the public trust" taking money from people doing business with the county and pressured staff members on behalf of his benefactors. Doyle eventually went to prison for taking bribes.
"I entered the board of county commissioners at a time when it was pretty much done that way, and problems had resulted from that _ from direct County Commission intervention into the staff," Safranek recalls.
"I don't agree with the statement that the County Commission doesn't make the decisions. We are fully apprised, we are given background information, and we review it to the best of our abilities."
Like other commissioners, Safranek also defends his treatment of the sheriff. Although Gillum complains that commissioners would not meet with him individually before passing their budget, Safranek says Gillum had a chance to present his case during several budget workshops.
"I don't believe I've ever had anyone walk up to me and scold me for not giving the sheriff more money," he says.