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MORE CHANGE IS COMING TO DADE CITY POLITICS

At least one new commissioner is coming, along with a city manager and police chief.

In addition to a new city manager and police chief, Dade City will have a new mayor and at least one new commissioner after April's election.

In December, Mayor Hutch Brock, who has served on the commission since 2000 and acted as mayor since 2004, announced he would not run for re-election so he could spend more time on family and career obligations.

For the first time in eight years there's an open seat on the dais, which could bring out candidates hesitant to run against an established incumbent.

"Any time there's an open seat, it generates a considerable amount of interest," said Commissioner Scott Black, whose term expires in 2010.

Three of the five commission seats will be decided in April. By Tuesday, four candidates had formally begun the filing process.

Incumbent Steve Van Gorden will run for re-election for Group 4. He is currently unchallenged. Eunice Penix, who has served on the commission since 1993, also is up for re-election. For the first time in her political career she has an opponent - local businessman Mike Agnello. Jim Shive, a former city employee, entered his name for Group 3, the seat vacated by Brock.

Group 4

Van Gorden said responsible growth and infrastructure improvements are important issues. He'd like to see more parking downtown, possibly in the form of a garage.

Paying for the garage with the tight budget would be tough, he said. Some cities have gone the way of parking meters to pay for garages.

"I don't personally want to go that route," he said.

In 2007, Van Gorden pushed for an increase in the raise budgeted for city employees. Some are thanking him for the boost.

The majority of the city's Public Works Department endorses Van Gorden, said Mariarose Kussler, the city cemetery caretaker.

"We think he has great expectations for the city," she said.

As of December 2007, Gorden had raised $5,600. Contributors include Dade City businessman Jim Guedry and his business partner, Ronald Triplett, who gave $350. Guedry's companies, Citrus Country Groves and JDR properties, also contributed a total of $700. Former City Manager Harold Sample's audio business, Smooth Sounds, gave $300.

Van Gorden, currently the principal at Hudson Middle School, was supported by several educators outside Dade City.

He is the only candidate so far to turn in his financial contributions paperwork.

Group 5

Incumbent Penix seemed unfazed after drawing a challenger for her spot on the commission. She said that her tenure with the city would help in her bid to retain the seat.

She's very proud of her accomplishments in the East Lake subdivision. She said she's fought to bring paved streets to the area and given the residents a voice in city government.

Now, with her first opponent, she will have to run a campaign.

"That would be a good experience for me," she said. "I have never done that before."

Her opponent is Agnello, who already has signs downtown, and said he would like to see improvements to area schools and more vocational training students who aren't bound for college.

"Other than working at McDonald's or the carwash, where is a young man or a young woman out of high school going to get a job that's meaningful?" he said.

Agnello ran for the commission in 2006 against Black, but lost. He is a fixture at City Commission meetings and often steps up to the microphone to weigh in on local issues.

"I've been portrayed as a maverick, as someone who might overturn the applecart," he said. "I think the years would prove I am not."

In 2007, Agnello was charged with stealing state funds. Authorities said that for several months in 2006 he collected sales tax revenue at his bar, the Osceola Tavern, but never sent the money to the state.

Agnello entered a pretrial intervention program, a more lenient path for first-time offenders that keeps them out of jail. He said he has until mid 2009 to pay the back taxes and associated fees.

Group 3

Shive said he helped Brock, Van Gorden, Camille Hernandez and former Commissioner Bill Dennis run campaigns, now he wants to be on the ballot.

Shive said street repairs and infrastructure improvements are an important part of his campaign. He said he would also like the city to obtain more grants.

"There's a ton of money out there," he said.

Shive said his experience in the city's Water Department gives him an edge in the election.

"I know the city's needs. I worked inside City Hall for almost 30 years," he said.

Shive also wants to examine the roles and makeup of city departments to make sure resources are maximized, he said.

In 2007, Shive supported Commissioner Hernandez after she sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist asking for an investigation into some alleged misdoings of Brock and former City Manager Harold Sample.

The letter angered some citizens and sparked a recall effort, led by Curtis Beebe, a local technology consultant.

Beebe said he has considered entering his name into the Group 3 race.

Beebe said he would like to open up the lines of communication between the city and residents. In his own experience researching issues, he's found that there's often much more to a matter than meets the eye.

He said he would like to inform residents about what goes into commissioners' decisions.

"The more people that understand the issues, the better job the commission can do in making decisions," he said.

Beebe said he would turn in his paperwork by the end of the week. He already has one backer.

Outgoing Mayor Brock said he will "absolutely" support Beebe.

"He is an intelligent, thoughtful decisionmaker," said Brock. "The thing I like most about Beebe, he argues with me."

Brock asked Beebe to halt the recall process in September 2007, a little more than a month after it began. He said he felt that the issue would divide the city.

Five commissioners are elected at-large for staggered four-year terms. Paperwork can be picked up at Dade City Hall. The deadline to file is Feb. 19 by noon. The next election will be held on April 8.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (352) 521-6518.

FAST FACTS

Dade City election

The deadline to file is Feb. 19 by noon. The next election will be held on April 8.

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