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Fire commissioner draws no opponent

(ran West edition)

Becky Harriman was elected Friday to continue serving on the Lealman Fire Commission when no one signed up to run against her.

Fellow incumbent Kathleen Litton was not so lucky. Litton, a six-year Fire Commission veteran who holds Seat 2, is facing a challenge from first-time candidate and community activist John Frank.

"All right! That is wonderful," Harriman said. "I was looking forward to a campaign, but now that I don't have to worry about it, that's good. That's real good."

The election, she said, will give her a greater chance to focus on issues facing the fire service, such as the creation of a countywide fire service to help relieve the tax burden Lealman residents face.

Harriman, 44, was appointed to the commission in December 2000 to fill a vacant seat that no one had run for in the election that year.

She is a member of the board of directors of the Lealman Community Association and the Lealman Revitalization team, and she serves on the committee for the Lealman Park and the Lealman coalition for the homeless.

She is married to Fred Harriman, a former Lealman fire board member, and has two children and three grandchildren. She raises American Eskimo dogs.

While the race for Seat 4 is over, the campaign for the other available seat on the commission promises to give Lealman voters a lot to think about.

Frank, the first-time candidate, has come out swinging, saying he's disappointed with the current leadership on the commission and that it's the "butt of jokes" among officials from surrounding areas.

Frank charged that the commission in general and Litton in particular are detached and uninvolved in issues facing the Lealman community. The commissioners, he said, spend much of their time arguing about irrelevancies, such as the design for the badges they wear, than in debating the larger issues facing the area, such as annexation and its effect on property tax rates.

"I'm really disappointed with the current leadership of the fire board," Frank said Thursday. "There's a lack of planning, a lack of projection into the future."

Litton, he said, is "woefully uninformed" and lacks "a grasp of rudimentary things" outside the Fire Commission that are needed to make sound decisions.

"It's not like 20 years ago when this was a good old boys' tea and cake club. You have to be informed," Frank said.

"I think to be able to make decisions, you've got to have some grasp of what's going on around us," he said. "You don't live in a vacuum in Lealman. That's become painfully clear the past few years."

Litton denied the charges, saying she fully understands the challenges facing the Lealman community. Fire Commission members are not elected to fight any battles but those connected with the fire service, she said. It would inappropriate for commission members to take positions on other issues.

"The thing is that we are the only governing entity in Lealman, but we are not the government of the Lealman unincorporated area," Litton said. "It is not the board's (duty) to fight as if we were the governing body of Lealman. . . . I have to keep my focus where I'm elected to keep my focus."

Litton also defended the commission's past actions on issues that affect the Lealman fire district, such as the annexation by Seminole of the west side of Park Street. That annexation took millions of dollars in commercial property off the Lealman tax rolls. Frank charged that the board just sat there and let the annexation happen without attempting to stop it.

Litton denied that, saying the Lealman firefighters attempted to talk to residents of Otter Key condominiums to try persuading them not to vote for the annexation.

"We weren't given an opportunity to voice our issues in that area prior to voting on that referendum," Litton said.

Litton, 44, has served six years on the Lealman commission. Her first term ran from 1996 through 2000. She was appointed in 2001 to fill out the term of Bob Carter, who left the commission because of ill health.

She served as the commission's representative to the American Assembly and is a member of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary. She is a former board member and coach for the Little League. She works for the U.S. Post Office and is married with two children.

Frank, 45, is board member of the Lealman Community Association and is assistant vice president of the United Community Associations of Pinellas, a group recently formed to represent the views of residents who live outside the county's cities.

He also serves on the Lealman revitalization team and the Lealman homeless coalition. He is single and owns his own business.

The Lealman Fire District stretches from about Interstate 275 west to Park Street. It is bordered by 62nd Avenue N on the north and 40th Avenue N on the south. The district contracts with Kenneth City to supply its fire and emergency protection. It is about 10 square miles and has two fire stations and 54 employees.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 people live in the district, which has an overall annual budget of about $4.9-million.

The commission has five members who are paid $500 a month. The commission meets at least twice a month, once for a workshop and once for a regular meeting.