Candidates' campaign signs are sprouting like spring flowers all over Oldsmar, where voters will choose two members of the five-member City Council when they go to the polls March 14.
Seat 1 council member Jim Ronecker won a three-year term in 2003 when no one else filed to run for the seat that Brian Michaels was leaving. Ronecker does have an opponent this time: Brian Michaels, who served on the City Council from 2000 to 2003 and wants to return.
Seat 3 council member Janice Miller, first elected in 2003, hopes voters will give her another three-year term. She is being challenged by newcomer Eric Seidel.
To prepare for making editorial recommendations, the St. Petersburg Times has conducted a lengthy interview with each candidate, examined their backgrounds and positions on the issues, and talked to people in the community who know them. We make our recommendations here.
Voters can find a sample ballot and information about polling places on the city's Web site at www.ci.oldsmar.fl.us, and they can check out the candidates at a candidate forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at Oldsmar City Hall, 100 State St.
We encourage all registered voters to go to the polls on March 14.
For Seat 1: Jim Ronecker
Three years ago, then-council member Brian Michaels said he was tired of struggling against a three-vote council majority led by Mayor Jerry Beverland. He decided not to run for re-election, but now he says he has had a rest and is ready to get back into the arena. Perhaps he is encouraged by the pending departure of Beverland, who has said he will not run for re-election when his term ends.
However, Jim Ronecker did want to serve on the City Council in 2003. He has served ably for three years and is our choice in this race.
Ronecker, 41, has lived in Oldsmar nine years but has been a resident of Pinellas since 1977. A father of three, he owns On Demand Printing of Tampa. He is a former chairman of the Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce and served on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the Agency on Bay Management. He represents Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs on the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Ronecker began serving on the Oldsmar City Council during a rocky period in city politics. One member of the council was suspended from office by the governor, and the council was known for its infighting. Ronecker said he wanted to "re-establish dignity to the office." He has the professional demeanor that was lacking at the time.
Though a newcomer to municipal government in 2003, Ronecker set about educating himself, in part by seeking out officials from other communities who could help him learn what he needed to know to be a good public servant. Now he continues to reach out to gather information and create partnerships that will help Oldsmar solve its problems and position itself for the future.
For example, Ronecker is concerned about the health of Old Tampa Bay and has encouraged Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Clearwater to jointly seek advice from experts on how to restore the bay to good health. He also suggested that Safety Harbor and Oldsmar, neighbors that seldom worked together, create biking and hiking trails to tie their cities together.
Ronecker is concerned about growth in Oldsmar. The city is booming, and he is glad to see it, but he wants the city "to grow smartly." He believes it is time for Oldsmar to be more discerning about development projects and perhaps demand more amenities from developers. He also wants to make sure that the city maintains enough work force housing.
He is enthusiastic about recent developments downtown, seeing the day that downtown might actually be a destination. He also is excited about the planned new library, the eventual construction of a cultural arts center next to the library and about the possibility of Oldsmar having its own water system.
Because he runs his own business, is involved with his family, is an elected official and has taken on some countywide responsibilities, too, Ronecker is a very busy man. He has lots of energy, but he will need to be sure that he fully performs each task he agrees to accept. He has an excellent opportunity to influence transportation policy as a member of the MPO, and few issues are more important to Pinellas and Oldsmar residents than transportation.
We recommend a vote for Jim Ronecker for Seat 1.
For Seat 3: Janice Miller
This interesting race pits a relatively new arrival to Oldsmar against a longtime resident.
Janice Miller, 63, has lived in Oldsmar for 36 years. She spent four years on the Oldsmar Planning Board before running for the City Council in 2003. A former horse trainer who came to Oldsmar originally for racing seasons at Tampa Bay Downs, Miller has spent the past 10 years selling real estate while volunteering in a variety of local civic organizations.
Miller lives near downtown, and when the city began talking about perhaps allowing multifamily development of the residential boulevards that extend from State Street, Miller opposed the idea and got involved to protect her neighborhood.
Miller tackles the job of elected official with enthusiasm and emotion. As a freshman on the council, she quickly stood up to Beverland and others who had a solid hold on city government. Her pluck won her the respect of some government watchers.
Miller is a careful steward of the city's tax dollars. For example, she urged the city to raze the old Kumar home when it promised to gobble up city resources. She has gone to Tallahassee to lobby for money for the city's planned water system. She tracks regional issues that could affect Oldsmar through service on the Suncoast League of Cities and on several committees of the Florida League of Cities.
Eric Seidel, 42, has lived in Oldsmar a little more than a year, though he has operated his business there, EAutoclaims Inc., for about four years. A native of Arizona, Seidel grew up in Miami and has spent most of his working life in the insurance industry. Since arriving in Oldsmar, Seidel has been active in the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Seidel got interested in running for office after he said he experienced bureaucratic red tape in the reconstruction of his home on Shore Drive Place. Seidel's plans ran afoul of rules about development in flood zones, and he believes the city could have been more helpful. He said he also was shocked when his tax bill for the rebuilt home doubled. He believes the city is not careful enough about limiting the tax burden on local residents.
Seidel is articulate, successful in business, and probably has much to offer the community, but he hasn't lived there long and he needs broader exposure to city affairs. Miller knows the heart of Oldsmar better, and has demonstrated that she has the time and dedication to represent residents' interests on the City Council.
We recommend a vote for Janice Miller for Seat 3.
Candidates not recommended may submit a response for publication. Responses should be 300 words or less and may not mention the candidate's opponent. The deadline for responses is noon Tuesday, Feb. 28. Please submit them to Diane Steinle, 710 Court St., Clearwater FL 33756, or they may be faxed to her attention at (727) 445-4119, or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.