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Foster, Stewart discuss representation, finance, water

Here's how candidates for the Pinellas County Commission answered questions sent out by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area.

Do you favor single-member districts for Pinellas County Commission?

WINNIE FOSTER, Democrat: Yes. Single-member districts would afford a better opportunity for representation of minority communities and also be a direct line to input and representation of neighborhoods. It is difficult to organize a protest countywide on a neighborhood issue.

ROBERT B. STEWART, Republican: With the current composition of five county commissioners, I do not favor single-member districts. Since almost every commission decision affects or impacts all county residents, I support all county voters having a say (vote) on each of the commissioners.

Would you be in favor of calling a special Charter Review Committee meeting so single-member districts could be placed on the ballot?

FOSTER: Yes.

STEWART: In 1998 a Charter Review Commission will consider single-member districts. Prior to that I would support a special review of the number of commissioners, possible addition of at-large members, as well as single-member districts if such issues were presented by a strong citizens' initiative or petition process.

Would you favor having a Pinellas County Finance Department with:

(a) An appointed director?

(b) Funds deposited in the general fund?

(c) The regular audit conducted by an independent person?

FOSTER: The financial oversight of budgets, bill paying and audits are now handled by the Clerk of Circuit Court. Any charter revision would need careful shaping of safeguards to avoid undue political pressures. The broad range of county services as shown on their organizational chart shows 37 separate departments under the board of county commissioners. There is also administrative coordination with at least 17 other entities. This creates a vast Chinese puzzle of budgets, difficult for citizens to monitor. It is no wonder there is little citizen participation in public hearings on the budget. I propose organizing citizen task forces and coalitions to study the budgetary processes and recommend changes which might simplify and make financial information more accessible. This task force should be composed of citizen watchdog groups, homeowners associations and businesses.

STEWART: The current system involving the Clerk of Circuit Court does provide an independent audit function and does provide a check and balance on government funds, which are deposited in the general fund. A regular audit is and should continue to be conducted by an independent auditor.

Do you think all of Pinellas County water authority should be delegated to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud?

FOSTER: Water wars have to stop. We need careful prioritizing of plans for future water use along with study and public discussion of all alternatives. Continued and increased conservation of water resources must be encouraged. Citizens should not be punished for conserving _ but must be educated to understand the realities of the resource and its cost. This is the time to draw together all entities planning for water _ cooperation and creative ideas are the answer to water problems.

STEWART: No. Since the county does not appoint members to Swiftmud board, and since there is little urban representation on the board, such delegation of authority would not be in Pinellas' best interest. We should strive for a more balanced approach and representation in solving water crisis issues regarding both regulation and supply.

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