As the March 8 City Commission election in Safety Harbor nears, the town is rocking with rumors and whisper campaigns. City elections are almost always divisive events here _ more so this year because a new majority will be seated. Commissioners Linda Adkins and Kathleen Bambery are retiring, and Commissioner Pam Corbino is up for re-election.
Jill Cincotta and Don Fletcher are running for Seat 1. Corbino is challenged by Paul Marron for Seat 2. And three candidates _ Fran Barnhisel, Sandy Huff and Bill Rupp _ are competing for Seat 3. Commissioners are paid $4,800 a year and serve three-year terms.
The Times has interviewed the candidates and examined their backgrounds and platforms. Please remember to vote March 8.
Fletcher for Seat 1
Jill Cincotta, 33, and Don Fletcher, 37, both were born in Clearwater and educated in area schools. Cincotta moved to Safety Harbor in 1981. Fletcher has been a resident for five years.
Both candidates are smart and capable and have shown interest in city affairs. Fletcher, who operates Florida Dredge and Dock Inc., watches City Commission meetings occasionally, served for many months on the city's Charter Review Committee, and last year was appointed to the City Commission to fill a two-month vacancy.
Cincotta never has served on the commission _ her late husband, Sal, was a city commissioner for several years _ but she regularly attends City Commission meetings and has been a member of the Downtown Redevelopment Board. Her memberships reflect her intense interest in downtown redevelopment: She is a former president and director of the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce, co-chairwoman of the Downtown Business Association and co-founder of the Downtown Partnership.
Cincotta has more detailed information about city affairs at her fingertips than Fletcher does, but she lacks two other prerequisites for the job of commissioner: a clean record and a personality well-suited to serving in public office.
In 1985 Cincotta was arrested at a local department store and charged with felonious grand theft retail after a security guard reported seeing her put $154 worth of merchandise in her purse. Cincotta says she was innocent, but she later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge, paid a fine and served a year of probation.
We believe her presence on the commission could be a detriment. Her comments and actions often are unnecessarily sarcastic, critical or manipulative.
One example: Cincotta denies rumors of a political alliance between her and candidates Barnhisel and Corbino. When questioned, though, she acknowledged that weeks ago she called Seat 3 candidate Bill Rupp and urged him to withdraw from the race so Barnhisel would have a clearer shot at winning.
Residents who care about keeping Safety Harbor government on its current even keel should vote for Fletcher. He wants the City Commission to operate openly and competently and without political games.
Safety Harbor's future, said Fletcher, is as a bedroom community _ "a place people come home to" _ and thus commissioners should work to keep it a safe, pleasant refuge for families. He wants more recreation facilities in town for children. He wants the city's drainage problems fixed. He says the city shouldn't sink taxpayer dollars into redevelopment of Main Street, but should merely encourage businesses to move there and initiate improvements on their own.
He supports the city manager form of government and City Manager Pamela Brangaccio, but says she needs good direction from the commission.
We strongly recommend a vote for Don Fletcher for Seat 1.
Corbino for Seat 2
Paul Marron, 37, lived in Pinellas in the late 1970s before marrying a Canadian nurse and moving with her to Canada in 1980. He returned in 1991 and settled in Safety Harbor, where he has started a business called Cruise Line Vacations.
Marron seems sincere and interested, but he knows little about city business. We hope he will learn what he needs to know and run again.
Corbino, a schoolteacher, wants a second term on the City Commission. Though she praises the city manager's intellect and knowledge, Corbino has an obvious personality conflict with Brangaccio. She should resolve it and stop sniping at Brangaccio in public meetings.
But otherwise, Corbino has been a hard-working member of the City Commission, and we believe she deserves a second term.
We recommend a vote for Pam Corbino for Seat 2.
Barnhisel for Seat 3
Three candidates who care a lot about their city are running in this race: Bill Rupp, 66, a retired law enforcement officer and union chief; Sandy Huff, 51, a freelance writer and photographer; and Fran Barnhisel, 50, a former nurse who is business manager in her husband's dental office.
Only Barnhisel has prepared herself fully for the job of commissioner. She attends meetings regularly, has been active in several business and civic groups, and has a better knowledge of the issues than the other candidates.
Though the rumor mill has linked her with Cincotta and Corbino, we believe Barnhisel has the intelligence and knowledge to be a good commissioner who will make decisions independently.
We recommend a vote for Fran Barnhisel for Seat 3.
Candidates not recommended may submit a response for publication. Responses should not exceed 300 words, should not attack the candidate's opponents, and must be received no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday. They may be sent to Diane Steinle, 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 34616, or may be faxed by dialing 445-4119.
A note about recommendations
This newspaper publishes recommendations to help readers become more knowledgeable voters. The job is not easy, nor is it one we take lightly.
Editors send candidates questionnaires about their backgrounds and positions on the issues. They compare these responses, examine campaign materials and study the candidates through an array of public records and sources. Editors also invite the candidates for private interviews, and they may call upon the insights of other people in the community to learn more about the candidates.
The goal is to provide readers with the newspaper's recommendation of who is best for the job and why. We hope these recommendations will entice readers to learn more about the candidates and vote for their choices on Election Day.