Tarpon Springs voters have an opportunity to choose from among five candidates, including a couple of strong contenders, in the Nov. 8 special election to fill a seat on the City Commission.
The vacancy arose when Frank DiDonato, who had been a commissioner since 1991 and was expected to remain in office until at least 1996, resigned last month because he bought a home outside the city limits. The five candidates vying to finish DiDonato's term are:
Karen Brayboy, 38, owner of an investment management company in Tarpon Springs.
Bob Johnson, 52, a former Tarpon Springs police officer who was fired from the force four years ago.
Patricia Malave, 43, controller of a Tampa scaffolding company.
Joseph J. Muzio, 43, subscription service manager for a Tampa publishing company.
Helene K. Pierce, 56, a social worker for the Pinellas County schools.
After studying the candidates' backgrounds and conducting interviews with all except Johnson, who did not accept an interview invitation, we found that two candidates _ Brayboy and Pierce _ have the knowledge and skills to be good city commissioners.
In 1992 we recommended Pierce when she ran unsuccessfully against Dudley Salley. Then as now we found her warm, wise and genuinely interested in Tarpon Springs. We hope to see her again as a candidate.
But it is Brayboy who has worked hardest to learn and understand this diverse city and its politics. We recommend her to Tarpon Springs voters.
Brayboy and her husband, Joe Part, have lived in Tarpon Springs only three years. But you wouldn't guess it. Brayboy has immersed herself in Tarpon Springs, serving on a slew of committees and boards as a worker, not just a joiner. And it's no surprise Brayboy has been tapped for so many posts. She exudes a calm professionalism. No ruffled feathers here. No ill-considered remarks. No evidence of lack of preparation, whatever the task.
Brayboy was raised in Plant City and received a degree in special education from East Carolina University. But she taught only briefly in Kentucky before moving to Charlotte, N.C., and entering the field of investment management. After about 10 years there, Brayboy, her husband and son, now 13, moved to the Tampa Bay area. They were drawn to Tarpon Springs' small-town atmosphere. Both Brayboy and Part, who sells insurance, opened businesses in town.
Brayboy's experience at managing others' money will be invaluable on the City Commission, especially because Tarpon Springs recently lost its longtime finance director and has a new city manager. No one else on the City Commission has the sort of experience she does in business.
Brayboy became interested in running for office while serving on the city's charter review committee for some eight months. She frequently attends City Commission meetings, and often is dismayed by those meetings. Infrastructure improvements that need to be done around the city get delayed while city commissioners approve more glamorous projects, she said. Commissioners fight among themselves. "I will not participate in squabbling on the City Commission," she said flatly.
Tarpon Springs needs to be cleaned up _ some areas of the city are dirty, she said. And the city's image needs to be polished, she said, because it is scaring away potential businesses. She would like "to make it a friendlier place."
Questions have been raised about whether Brayboy is so close to the local power structure that she could not be independent on the commission. Brayboy said people who wonder about that "don't know me well enough yet to know that very rarely am I swayed by any one person."
We think Brayboy has a mind of her own. If elected, she said she will resign from the board of the chamber of commerce and perhaps some other positions to avoid conflicts. She supports the city manager form of government. She said the city's much-maligned former city manager, Carey Smith, was a professional who did a good job. She said the new manager, Costa Vatikiotis, "can do a good job" and "has been terribly fair to me," but she was dismayed by his attitude while negotiating for the job and doubts she would have accepted him under those circumstances.
If Brayboy fulfills the promise she shows, she will be an outstanding city commissioner. We recommend that Tarpon Springs residents vote for her Nov. 8.
Candidates not recommended may submit a reply for publication. The reply should be submitted by 5 p.m. Tuesday to Diane Steinle, 710 Court St., Clearwater FL 34616, or faxed to 445-4119. Please limit responses to about 300 words.