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INDIAN ROCKS BEACH // Right to comment divides opponents in race for mayor

Mayor Bob DiNicola thinks he should be returned to office, in part, because of how smoothly things are running these days in a town known for political infighting.

"I run a very good meeting," DiNicola said. "There is less bickering and the meetings end at 10 p.m. instead of 1 a.m."

DiNicola said in the past, commission meetings often were heated and argumentative, with commissioners chasing personal agendas at the expense of the city's residents.

These days, he said, meetings are smooth affairs conducted on behalf of the residents. Debate is lively but polite; commissioners say their piece, vote and move on.

DiNicola's challenger, James R. Palamara, disagrees with the mayor's assessment.

"For the past two years, we have seen government for those who govern," Palamara said. "Everything is being done by them, their way, and there is no participation from the community (on) anything. They are taking away the people's voice."

Palamara, who lost to DiNicola in 1994 by 10 votes, said the current mayor and commission took away the right to speak at commission workshops. "That is when you want everyone to put up their ideas," he said.

DiNicola responded by saying that was because a small group of residents _ Palamara included _ abused the speaking privileges, commenting two and three times on every issue, and commissioners could not get anything done.

Palamara also charges that the current commission is closing the doors on what should be a government operated openly.

"I'm pulling teeth to get public records," he said. "I even had to pay $10 to get a copy of my city's budget."

DiNicola said Palamara "doesn't know what he is talking about.

"He comes to a meeting once in a great while, so he don't know what the hell is going on," the mayor said.