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Two council members face challenges

Oldsmar's March 14 election features four candidates - two incumbents vying for a second term and two challengers - for two City Council seats.

The race for Seat 1 features two well-known figures, as council member and Vice Mayor Jim Ronecker faces his predecessor, Brian Michaels.

In Seat 3, council member Janice Miller is being challenged by political newcomer Eric Seidel.

Both races, however, feature issues familiar to Oldsmar voters: transportation, taxes, infrastructure and development.

Seat 1: Michaels vs. Ronecker

As his first term ended in 2003, Michaels decided not to run for re-election. However, Michaels now says he is well-rested and has come back to challenge his successor, armed with a 15-point safety plan for the city.

The plan includes providing better speed control devices for Forest Lakes Boulevard, forming a safety committee to review accidents and adding high visibility crosswalks at school crossings.

"I did the most lobbying for the city for traffic issues," Michaels said.

Of his 2000-03 term, Michaels said he is proud to have helped build a lot of city parks.

"If you think back to Oldsmar in 2000, before I got elected, there were no parks on the north side," Michaels said.

He said he personally donated 1,000 plants and trees to beautify the city.

Michaels said he was on the council when it voted to go to a property tax rate of 4.65 mills and said the council should now consider going back to the rollback rate of 4.15 mills.

"When do residents get a break?" he said. "Everyone has to pay more for everything."

Ronecker said he ran three years ago because he kept reading negative things about Oldsmar. He was embarrassed about that and told voters he wanted to "bring a common-sense approach to government."

The city has seen rapid growth in the past few years. Downtown is being developed; a new library is being built and so is Veterans Memorial Park.

"Everything coming out lately has been much more positive," Ronecker said.

He said the city needs "to grow smartly," adding "we don't want 300 strip stores that in 20 years are empty."

Ronecker is also spearheading the effort to have Oldsmar join with Safety Harbor to clean Old Tampa Bay and to link the two cities' hiking and biking trails.

"That's my baby," he said.

Ronecker has been endorsed by the Pinellas County Board of Realtors and the International Association of Firefighters, Palm Harbor/Oldsmar Firefighters, local 2980. The local firefighters' union has also endorsed Seat 3 candidate Eric Seidel.

Seat 3: Miller vs. Seidel

March will mark four years since Eric Seidel brought his public company, eAutoclaims, to Oldsmar. He was prompted to run for office, he said, after hitting several roadblocks when trying to remodel the waterfront house he bought in August 2003.

He said the process was frustrating and not user-friendly.

"I'm one of those who sit back and say, "Well, I can complain, or I'm already active in the community, maybe I should run for City Council,' " Seidel said.

Seidel said his company hires a third party to survey 10 percent of the people who use his company's service. He said he'd like to see the city use a similar "customer service index."

"You benchmark that index and continue to make tweaks to improve," he said.

Seidel recently stepped down from the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce's board of directors in response to questions about the potential for conflict of interest, because the city gives the chamber money.

Although he has been an Oldsmar resident for only 1 1/2 years and hasn't run for public office before, Seidel said he has experience dealing with executive challenges.

"I think the problems that we're dealing with on the City Council are about our future, not our past," Seidel said.

Incumbent Janice Miller said she does not consider her elective office as a part-time job. She said she is constantly going to conferences and classes related to her role on the council.

"If something comes before us," she said, "I want to know what it entails."

She said she seeks another term because she wants to see several projects she's been involved with, such as the development of Oldsmar's downtown, come to fruition.

During her first year in office, Miller said she suggested the city raze the incomplete 1920s hotel that occupied what is now Veterans Memorial Park instead of converting it to a cultural center.

The city's original plan was to repair the building, which engineers had estimated would cost $3-million.

"You can't use the taxpayers' money like that," Miller said.

THE JOB

Oldsmar City Council members serve three-year terms and have a two-term limit. The position pays $7,200 a year. At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the four candidates will participate in a forum sponsored by the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce at Council Chambers, 100 State St. W. The forum will be moderated by the League of Women Voters. The election is March 14.

COUNCIL SEAT 1

JIM RONECKER

AGE: 41

POSITION: Owner of On Demand Printing in Tampa.

BACKGROUND: Ronecker has lived in Oldsmar for nine years. He graduated from Countryside High School in 1982 and from St. Petersburg Junior College in 1991. He is the CEO of the Young Advisory Group of the Printing Industries of America, a board member of the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization and board member of the Printing Association of Florida. He has served on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and on the Agency on Bay Management, and he was chairman of the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce. He is married and has three children, ranging in age from 2 to 15 years old.

BRIAN MICHAELS

AGE: 47

POSITION: Service/network manager for EGP copiers.

BACKGROUND: Michaels has lived in Oldsmar for 21 years and served on the City Council from 2000 to 2003. He was on the board of directors for Keep Florida Beautiful from 2004 to 2005 and served as vice president and president for the Forest Lakes homeowners association. He is married.

COUNCIL SEAT 3

JANICE MILLER

AGE: 63

POSITION: Realtor

BACKGROUND: Miller has lived in Oldsmar for 36 years. She is involved in several organizations, including the Woman's Club, Friends of the Library, the Garden Club, the Oldsmar Historical Society and the local AARP chapter. She is married and has a grown son.

ERIC SEIDEL

AGE: 42

POSITION: Seidel is president and CEO of eAutoclaims Inc., a public company based in Oldsmar.

BACKGROUND: A political newcomer, Seidel has been living in Oldsmar for 1 1/2 years. He recently stepped down as trustee council chairman and executive committee member of the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce. He was national president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce from 1993 to 1994. Seidel is divorced and has a son and stepson.

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