In a town where the mayor's seat was up for grabs and two commissioners faced re-election, how did the race for a vacant commissioner's seat become the center of attention, drawing seven candidates?
True, there's competition for mayor on the March 14 ballot. Commissioner Bob Hackworth is running against neophyte John T. Conway to replace retiring Mayor John Doglione.
But incumbent commissioners Julie Scales and Dave Eggers were automatically re-elected Jan. 13 when no one challenged them.
Instead, seven candidates crowded into a third race. That's the seat Hackworth left open when he ran for mayor. Whoever wins the seat will serve the two years remaining on his term.
So why did everyone avoid the incumbents?
It's partly because incumbents enjoy name recognition and fundraising advantages.
"It's hard to drum up support to take out an incumbent unless they have angered the community," said Ed Armstrong, an influential Clearwater attorney and political observer. "And that hardly ever happens."
But there's another possible reason, too.
Dunedin generally does not allow candidates to run against a specific incumbent. It is one of the few municipalities in Pinellas County with this system.
Rather, challengers and incumbents all run together. If two seats are open, the top two vote-getters win the seats. This apparently dissuaded some candidates from challenging Eggers or Scales for a full three-year term.
"If you're running against two people, and you like one person and don't like the other, you could hurt the person you like," said Julie Ward Bujalski. "That's why I believe many people didn't run (against the incumbents), including myself."
The good news for those who think there should be races for individual seats is that Dunedin recently formed a committee to explore changing its charter. Recommendations may be made by this summer.
In the meantime, this year's seven-candidate race means harder work for candidates and residents alike.
"With seven people, it's difficult," said candidate Michael R. Henkel. "The challenge is setting yourself apart with your platform and what you want to accomplish."
"A community builder'
A longtime ethics professor at Valdosta State University, Ron Barnette wrote the city's Code of Core Values for Civility and Ethics in 2004 after seeing uncivil behavior at a commission meeting.
Barnette, who moved to Dunedin in 2002, says lately the code has been "conveniently" ignored: all too often personality conflicts rather than debate on issues are the focus of commission meetings.
Barnette said he can promote and participate in rational debate while building consensus.
His record, he says, comes from having spent 27 years as a university administrator, mostly as head of the philosophy department but also serving short stints as an interim vice president and dean.
His broader ideals include keeping the "excellence" of Dunedin: its small-town charm, diversity and wide range of services on low property taxes.
"I'm a community builder," Barnette said. "I'll bring a process of logic, clear, rational thinking, independence . . . that looks only at argument, the debate, and discussion. And I'm a team-builder."
Julie Ward Bujalski:
A focus on policy
Julie Bujalski moved to Dunedin from Washington, D.C., as a child and attended local schools. She and her husband are now raising their 7-year-old son in the town where she grew up.
She thinks she can help lead Dunedin with the knowledge of city policy she has acquired from attending commission meetings for five years.
Her experience working with a $10-million budget as an economic forecaster for a clothing retail chain would help her manage city finances, she said.
"I have a really good understanding of where we've been in Dunedin," said Bujalski. "So I believe that because of those qualities I'm very ready to go to the next step and help Dunedin make the best policy decisions."
Her ideas include requiring new development projects to provide a certain number of affordable units.
Or perhaps Dunedin could adopt a grant program, similar to one implemented by St. Petersburg, to help some who work in the city buy homes in the city, she said.
Another priority is to get accurate forecasts of annual city revenues, she said. In the past, the city has underestimated revenue and departments have tried to tap the extra cash that has come in for additional projects.
She thinks the money should be given back to citizens or targeted for a specific project.
Bujalski says she has worked hard for all she has accomplished, but not all of her life has gone smoothly.
In 1984, when she was 19 and had moved to Largo, she was arrested for growing seven marijuana plants. The charge was dismissed after she went through a pretrial intervention program that required regular drug testing and counseling.
Bujalski also has been cited for driving with a suspended license in 1987 and 2004, according to county records. She has also been cited for speeding four times, most recently in 2004.
Bujalski said she could not remember the specifics on all the cases, but she said she did not know her license had been suspended in 2004. She said the suspension occurred because she paid a previous citation a day late.
The reason for those tickets is that she had been in a hurry, Bujalski said, but she and her husband have made arrangements so she has time to get where she needs to go.
"I'd like to say that it was the wrong decision that I made, but it was the biggest learning experience that I had," she said of the marijuana arrest. "If anything, what I've done with my life since should be a record of what kind of public leader I would be."
John R. Espey:
"I know the city'
His history with Dunedin runs long.
John Espey moved here in 1951, taught at Largo and Dunedin high schools and served on everything from the Pinellas County School Board to the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce.
"I know the city better than most," he said. "I think I've demonstrated over the years my ability to lead."
Higher home prices and new pricey developments mean the city stands to receive more revenue. To him, that should translate into lower taxes.
"To produce the same amount of dollars you could lower the millage rate and that's one of the things I would be willing to do," he said.
Espey said he would work on speeding up the permitting process in the building department and use his experience to reach beyond the city boundaries.
"In the past, when I was on the School Board, I lobbied both in Tallahassee and Washington and I'd be happy to do that on behalf of the citizens of Dunedin," he said.
There's one blemish on Espey's record from his time on the School Board. He was arrested in 1993 for forging the signature of a fellow board member, causing the member to get unsolicited magazines.
He entered a pretrial intervention program, was placed on 12 months' probation and ordered to pay $120 in court costs. He was also reprimanded by the state Education Practices Commission.
"No. 1, it was stupid," he said. "No. 2, it was kind of childish and more like a prank than anything real serious. The people involved have forgiven me."
Michael R. Henkel:
Protect the environment
Michael Henkel grew up on Clearwater Beach and says it was "the most beautiful mile-and-half playground in the world."
"When I look at Dunedin, I want our children to have that same safe feeling," he had, Henkel said.
So he is running on the broader theme of "sustainable growth and environmental protection."
What can be done locally? Henkel practices some of what he would promote as a commissioner.
He said he tries to walk to the store when possible, avoiding a car trip. He found a job close to home and he rides his bike there occasionally.
As a commissioner, he would advocate for things such as community gardens, trollies, east-west biking and riding trails and increasing the number of farmers' markets downtown from once a week to several times, perhaps every day. That would save people trips to the grocery store.
With regard to new development, Henkel said he would negotiate to get park space, public benches or other benefits for the public in return for concessions made to developers.
Building revenue, access
Having served for two decades as the executive director of the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, Nancy McIntyre said she knows what it's like to have to scratch and claw for city funding.
"That's why, when you talk about cutting taxes, I'm concerned about how you're going to cut them and what you're going to cut," she said.
If elected, she said one of her ideas would be to establish a "development office" to look for additional sources of revenue.
One source, she said, could be bequests from residents because so many of them are emotionally attached to Dunedin.
She would also work to to improve the access that residents have to commissioners and encourage periodic town hall meetings, McIntyre said.
McIntyre said that poorer areas of town receive services inferior to those in wealthy areas.
"You won't find dirt on the street of Fairway Estates or Spanish Trails," she said.
She would call for the new city manager to examine that inequity and take steps to fix it, she said.
Her ideas for affordable housing include the city partnering with Habitat For Humanity to build homes.
She also would work to give developers incentives so they might include commercial space below condominiums. This way, the public could also benefit from new developments.
And buying land for public use would also be a priority.
"I would like very much to be responsible for looking at what land is available for sale and see if we can do a partnership with the county in buying it," she said.
Tom Osborne: Cut taxes
He calls himself the "taxpayer's candidate."
In fact, Tom Osborne said he decided to enter the race after commissioners failed to pass a proposal to cut property taxes last year.
If he is elected, his first move will be to propose a 10 percent cut in the millage rate which currently stands at $4.4253 per $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value, he said.
He's cut taxes when he was on the commission before.
"I proposed and executed tax reductions three consecutive years, plus increasing the reserves, plus the library we built, plus a number of other projects," he said.
Osborne said the second thing he would do is recommend "a complete review of our comprehensive plan with a view of amending zoning ordinance" to construct a vision of how the city should develop.
He favors "flexible zoning" and a "rule of reasonable user" that would take into account the topography and the wishes of the people who live around a proposed development.
"I think controlled growth and balance of interests between residents and commercial interests need to be established and adjusted," he said.
A concern for the elderly
Mike Wallace's reasons for wanting to be a commissioner are rooted in having been raised poor in Tampa.
"My mother got up at 5," he said. "She and I ran a paper route."
Elderly widows he meets would like to sell their large homes and buy smaller homes that would be less expensive to maintain. But their real estate taxes have stayed relatively low through the Save Our Homes cap on the growth of assessed property values on homes, and their new homes would saddle them with much higher taxes.
Wallace said he wants to eventually help change state law to allow elderly people to transfer their Save Our Homes tax cap one time, from the house they sell to their new one.
So why run for local office?
"You need experience," he said. "And I'm not just wanting experience. I love Dunedin. I'd like it to stay the same. I believe in free enterprise but I also would like us to keep Dunedin quaint."
POSITION: Professor emeritus of philosophy, Valdosta State University.
BACKGROUND: Born in Compton, Calif., Barnette attended high School in Ukiah, Calif. He received an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Long Beach State University and a doctorate from the University of California, Irvine. He began teaching at Valdosta in 1972 and spent 30 years as a professor and administrator. He bought a home in Dunedin in 1999 and moved there fulltime in 2002. He and his wife, Candy McKibben Barnette, have a grown son and daughter.
BACKGROUND: Born in Indiana, Espey came to Dunedin in 1951. He graduated from Clearwater High School in 1963; Florida State University in 1961; and the University of Florida in 1967. He taught at Largo and Dunedin high schools. Married to Martha Espey for 45 years, Espey has two grown daughters. Espey spent 12 years on the Pinellas County School Board between 1978 and 1992. He has also worked as a Realtor and appraiser.
POSITION: Museum consultant.
BACKGROUND: Born in St. Petersburg, she attended Notre Dame Academy for Girls. She received a bachelor's of science in arts education and community arts development from Florida State University in 1971 and a master's in arts management from the University of South Florida in 1986. She served as the executive director of the Dunedin Fine Arts Center from 1985 to 2005. She is single but has been engaged for 23 years.
POSITION: Retired attorney and private investor.
BACKGROUND: Born in Newark, N.J., he served on the City Council of Roseland, N.J. in the late 1950s. Has lived in Dunedin for 16 years and he previously served five years as a city commissioner. He and his wife, Edwina, have five grown children.
POSITION: Economic forecaster, planner and product developer for BMR Holdings LLC.
BACKGROUND: She moved to Dunedin from Washington, D.C., as a young child and attended Dunedin Elementary, Dunedin Highland Middle and Dunedin High. She received a general equivalency diploma and graduated from ITT Technical Institute in 1986. She has spent 20 years with the same company. She is married to Tom Bujalski and has a 7-year-old son.
POSITION: Manager at Nature's Food Patch in Clearwater.
BACKGROUND: He was born in St. Charles, Ill., and raised on Clearwater Beach. After attending Clearwater High School, he graduated from Florida State University in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in urban planning. He has taken two separate nine-day courses at Earthaven Learning Center in North Carolina, which teaches sustainable living techniques such as how to design homes that are in harmony with nature. Has lived in Dunedin for 12 years and has a 12-year-old son.
POSITION: Owner of Payless Carpet Cleaning.
BACKGROUND: He was born in Tampa. Because of dyslexia, he studied into his 30s until he received his general equivalency diploma. He has operated his current company for eight years but has been in the business for 20. He has lived in Dunedin for nine years and is married to Susan C. Wallace. He has a grown son and grown daughter, who recently received her medical degree.
The Dunedin City Commission seat came open when Commissioner Bob Hackworth decided to run for mayor. The open seat has two years remaining. Commissioners are paid $8,000 a year. The election is March 14.