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Kenneth City voters replace their mayor

Harold Paxton, a 49-year-old former Kenneth City council member, was elected to a three-year term as mayor Tuesday. He defeated incumbent Mayor Lester M. Eshleman by 63 votes in final, unofficial results.

"All I can say is that the people have spoken," Eshleman said after the final tally.

From a group of five candidates for two council seats, winners were Harlene "Honey Bee" Bowie, president of the Kenneth City Homeowners' Association, and Elaine J. Vaughan, who has served since June as an appointed council member. She took the seat of Carl Schleck, who was killed in a car accident. They captured the top two slots with William C. "Bill" Gaebler, Willis W. Reese III and Charles Knox trailing.

Paxton will be sworn in as mayor at 11 a.m. today at the Kenneth City Community Center. He will conduct his first council meeting as mayor tonight.

Both Paxton and Eshleman have been 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 in private. Knox also has been charged with violating the open meetings law. The charges stem from a series of private meetings held in 1991 and 1992 when then Mayor Eshleman and members of the Town Council discussed the construction of a new Town Hall and Police Department, records show.

Paxton, who has worked as a pastor with the Advent Christian Church since 1969, said he believes his two-year council tenure showed the voters how he stands on issues.

"I think we presented a campaign with ideas everyone thought were good," Paxton said. "My two years on the council were spent in giving people what they pay for, and I think that they saw that."

Bowie and Vaughan thanked the voters for showing confidence in them.

"I am just delighted," Vaughan said.

Bowie said she believes her work as president of the Homeowners' Association convinced people of her sincerity.

"People know how I work," she said.

Voter turnout Tuesday was 33.3 percent of registered voters, compared with the 62.1 percent turnout in the 1993 election. Paxton said he did not know why there was such a low turnout.

"You'd have thought it would have been higher with the weather, but maybe people went to the beach instead of to the polls," he said.