Residents of this town of 4,400 will elect a new mayor and fill two seats on the Town Council. But unlike previous years, don't expect either race to be smooth sailing.
In the mayoral race, both candidates are facing criminal charges. Both Mayor Lester Eshleman and council member Harold Paxton were charged by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office with violating Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law, which prohibits elected officials from conducting the public's business behind closed doors.
One of the five candidates for the Town Council, former council member Charles Knox, also was charged with violating the open meetings law. The charges stem from a series of private meetings held in 1991 and 1992, when the mayor and members of the Town Council discussed the construction of a new Town Hall and Police Department, records show.
Kenneth City does not have an appointed town manager. That means the mayor and council members supervise the town's departments directly, with the mayor taking the lead role.
The mayor serves a three-year term and is paid $500 per month. Town council members serve two-year terms and are paid $300 per month.
Eshleman's term is expiring. In the council, voters must fill two seats, Paxton's and another seat currently held by Elaine Vaughan, who was appointed to fill a seat vacated when Carl Schleck was killed last year in a car accident.
All in all, most candidates and residents agree with one thing: Kenneth City will need strong leadership in coming years.
Last year, the town was rocked by scandal. First, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office began investigating the Police Department, leading to the departure of the former chief. Then, prosecutors began looking into whether the council had held secret meetings. The investigation led to several charges against current and former council members.
The election will be held March 8. Voters will elect a mayor, and the top two vote-getters will be elected to the Town Council.
_ CAROL A. MARBIN
Lester M. Eshleman
BACKGROUND: Former businessman, worked 12 years as a salesman and district manager for Ruben H. Donelly Corp., eight years for North American Van Lines, and 16 years as owner and operator of Budget Rent-A-Car franchises in Allentown, Pa., and St. Petersburg. He is the incumbent mayor of Kenneth City. A native of Pennsylvania, Eshleman is a graduate of the Lancaster Business College, and is a military veteran of World War II. He is married to Josephine Eshleman, has five children and 12 grandchildren, and lives at 6048 52nd Ave. N.
PLATFORM: Eshleman said there are a number of issues he would like to continue to address as mayor, including pollution control, stormwater runoff and the town's growth. Addressing these issues, Eshleman said, will cost the town money, and he would like to continue to help the town stay financially sound. Eshleman said he would like to encourage businesses to stay in Kenneth City, as well as encourage new business to relocate to the town. "Even though we have a City Council form of government, I feel we need good, sound leadership through the mayor's office," he said. "I intend to portray this on an increased basis the next three years."
ASSETS: City government income, Social Security income, mutual funds.
BACKGROUND: Paxton has worked as a pastor with the Advent Christian Church since 1969, and is finishing his term on the Town Council. A native of Clifton Forge, Va., Paxton received a bachelor's degree in Bible and religion from Aurora University in Aurora, Ill. He moved to Florida in 1969. He is married, has two sons and lives at 5800 58th St. N.
PLATFORM: As he did as a Town Council member, Paxton is emphasizing fiscal management within Kenneth City. "I think people ought to get something for the money they spend," said Paxton, adding city officials ought to be financially accountable to the citizens who put them in office. Paxton also would like to see more of the town's residents involved in municipal government.
ASSETS: Salary from the Advent Christian Church, salary from Town Council.
Harlene "Honey Bee" Bowie
BACKGROUND: Was an organist and entertainer for 35 years, playing at Guy Lombardo's Port of Call and the Coral Reef in St. Petersburg Beach. Bowie also taught music professionally, including a stint with the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, and ran an employment agency in the 1960s. Bowie also served two years in the Navy. She is president of the Kenneth City Homeowners' Association. Born in Tulsa, Okla., Bowie was raised in Kansas City, Mo., and Fort Worth, Texas, before moving to Kenneth City in 1962. Bowie attended Washington University in St. Louis and received her music degree from the Conservatory of Music in Dayton, Ohio. She is divorced, has two grown children and an adopted daughter, and lives at 5912 50th Ave. N.
PLATFORM: Bowie says the Town Council has declined to listen to residents in the past. She says she is running for office because she wants to ensure that residents' concerns are heeded. "I just think we need a change up there at City Hall," Bowie said. "I want to get in there to see to it that residents are getting heard."
ASSETS: Social Security income, an escrow account, property.
William C. "Bill" Gaebler
BACKGROUND: Former superintendent and safety director of railway equipment for GATX Corp. in Chicago, Gaebler spent the last 13 of 43 years with the company in the finance and accounting department. A native of Ralston, Neb., Gaebler graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He moved to Florida in 1984. He has been married for 53 years, has six children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and lives at 4725 Lake Charles Way N.
PLATFORM: Gaebler would like the Police Department to improve its image. He said officers in the department have been depicted in recent news accounts as "the Dunkin Donut cops," and he would like the department to be taken more seriously. Gaebler also would like to increase police patrols in neighborhoods and commercial districts, and to focus more attention of crime prevention. Gaebler would like to revitalize commercial properties in the town to increase municipal revenue, and to upgrade programs for the town's youth. He'd also like to do more for senior citizens, such as adding a bus service or mini-bus along 58th Street to take older people to the doctor, dentist or shopping.
BACKGROUND: A former senior planning analyst with GTE, both in Tampa and in Michigan, Knox also served two terms on the Town Council. A native of South Haven, Mich., Knox attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He moved to Kenneth City in 1967. He is married, has three grown children, and lives at 5600 46th Ave. N.
PLATFORM: Knox said he is running for the council to "bring some order to the town." A former council member who served his two-term limit, Knox said he has the experience to lead Kenneth City. "I want to see if we can get some harmony on the council again," Knox said.
ASSETS: Mutual funds.
Willis W. Reese III
BACKGROUND: A former janitorial service owner, security guard and Kenneth City Police officer, Reese is a customer service professional with MCI in Pinellas Park. Reese was born in Tampa, but traveled extensively, as his father was a career officer in the U.S. Air Force. He attended the Wichita Falls branch of Vernon Regional Junior College in Vernon, Texas, graduated from the Citrus County Police Academy, and is attending Saint Leo College, majoring in business administration. He is married, has three children and lives at 4442 63rd St. N.
PLATFORM: Reese would like the town of Kenneth City to improve its image _ particularly the Police Department's. Reese said he has been to several gatherings or meetings, and has heard other Pinellas County residents snicker when he says he lives in Kenneth City and used to work for the Police Department. The town's reputation, Reese said, hampers efforts to attract new businesses, which, in turn, hurts efforts to increase Kenneth City's tax base. "The image of Kenneth City is dwindling our customer base," he said. "Businesses are just not interested in being in our town." Reese also would like to organize a volunteer library for the town, stocked with donated books. And he'd like to do more for young people and the elderly.
ASSETS: Salary, his home, money market account.
Elaine J. Vaughan
BACKGROUND: A former housewife, Vaughan also worked in a family-owned electronics business in New Hampshire before moving to Kenneth City and going to work as an account clerk with the St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Department. She is originally from Lynn, Mass., and graduated from Bentley College in Boston. She moved to Florida in 1978. Vaughan is divorced, has three daughters and two grandchildren and lives at 4943 Lake Charles Drive N.
PLATFORM: As the Town Council member responsible for public safety, Vaughan oversees the Police Department and Volunteer Fire Department. Vaughan would like to see the town continue with its own police and volunteer fire departments, and to improve the departments' operations. She also supports efforts to lure new businesses into the town, and to update the town's code of local ordinances. Vaughan said she wants to help Kenneth
City "keep its integrity" amid recent setbacks, and to listen to what residents say at public meetings. "I'm for listening to all people, and I've been doing that," Vaughan said. "I find it very challenging."
ASSETS: Salary from St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue, city government salary, annuity, IRA, certificate of deposit, savings.