Both candidates for the Tarpon Springs City Commission are involved in running businesses in the city.
The contest for City Commission Seat 4 pits a well-known incumbent against a new face.
Beverley Billiris, 53, faces a challenge from first-time candidate Joseph Pisani, 37. Billiris said she would provide experience and a thorough knowledge of the city, while Pisani said he offers a fresh outlook and what he refers to as a "beginner's mind."
Billiris joined the commission in 1998. She is a local businesswoman who is involved with several tourist-oriented businesses, including a gift shop on the Sponge Docks, her family's import/export sponge business and the new Tarpon Springs Awesome Tours, which provides several thematic tours for groups visiting the city.
She said her involvement in so many businesses requires her to recuse herself from some commission votes. But she said that happens rarely, and she said she would continue to be careful not to get involved in a conflict of interest.
Billiris said she would like to continue the work of the current commission, which she described as productive and forward-thinking. She said some of the highlights of her term as a commissioner have been beautification projects in the city, approving the affiliation between University Community Hospital of Tampa and Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital and overseeing the plans for downtown redevelopment.
"For the first time, residents are commenting on how much work is being done in the community," she said.
She said she likes many aspects of the downtown redevelopment plan, but she noted that it is only a conceptual design. She said the city will not take anybody's land against the owner's will, and she said
all parts of the plan are subject to change if residents don't like them.
The plan, she said, "is molded in Jell-O."
Billiris also said she may seek higher office in the future, perhaps with a run for mayor or a countywide position.
Pisani is the owner of Trendsetters Hair Salon on N Pinellas Avenue. He is a local chairman of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. He has lived in Tarpon Springs since 1989 and has run the salon since 1997.
He said his status as a political novice is beneficial.
"I think too many experts in one spot don't make the right decisions," he said. "There is no need to have deep understanding of all issues."
He said he would focus on opening city government to the residents, and he has suggested holding some commission meetings outside of City Hall. He also said he would "bring integrity" to the City Commission.
Pisani concedes that he has little information about the city's budget.
"I am not a numbers man," he said. "I cut hair."
He said he supports the concept of the downtown redevelopment proposal, and, like his opponent, he encouraged the continued involvement of residents.
"It's a great plan that may need to be revised a little bit," he said.
He said he has spent much of the campaign meeting people around town. He has introduced himself and told the residents about his political ideas. One of his goals, he said, is for residents to see that he is much like them.
"I want to be looked at as a regular individual," he said, "not a polished politician."
The election is Tuesday.
_ Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazellasptimes.com.
TARPON SPRINGS CITY COMMISSION SEAT 4
Commissioners serve three-year terms and are paid $8,000 a year.
Background: Billiris was born in Toronto and earned degrees from St. Petersburg Junior College, the University of South Florida and Nova University. She has worked as an accounting clerk and a teacher. Currently, she is involved in several businesses, including a sponge importing/exporting business, a tour boat company, a gift shop and a tour company. She has been involved with the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Alliance for Progress, Leadership Pinellas, several Florida League of Cities boards and other organizations. She is married to sponge merchant George Billiris.
Assets: Home, stocks, mutual fund, commercial property.
Liabilities: Mortgage, business loans.
Income: From ownership of various businesses.
Background: Pisani was born in New York and was in the Army. He attended Saint Leo College and the Florida National Guard Military Academy. He has worked in the vending business and now owns Trendsetters Hair Salon on N Pinellas Avenue. He is a local chairman of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. This is his first run for political office. He is single.
Assets: Condominium, hair salon.
Income: Ownership of hair salon.