Tight commission races in Tarpon Springs, Madeira Beach could go to recount

The question of development was at the forefront of Tuesday’s municipal elections in Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs.
Voting signs are seen on Election Day outside of the polls at Cypress Meadows Community Church on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, in Clearwater.
Voting signs are seen on Election Day outside of the polls at Cypress Meadows Community Church on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, in Clearwater. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Mar. 16, 2022|Updated Mar. 16, 2022

City commission races in both Madeira Beach and Tarpon Springs appear to be close enough after Tuesday’s municipal elections to trigger recounts.

In Madeira Beach, the race between Charles “Chuck” Dillon and Ray Kerr for the District 2 commission seat was separated by only one vote as of results posted Tuesday evening. And in Tarpon Springs, Michael Eisner had 10 more votes than candidate George Koulianos for Commission Seat 3 as of Tuesday night.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections may still need to process some mail and provisional ballots, so the tallies could change.

State law mandates a machine recount of ballots if the winning margin in unofficial results is 0.5 percent or less. A machine recount is simply done by feeding ballots back into tabulation machines to see if the vote totals change, whether because of an improperly calibrated machine or some other issue.

If the margin of victory is 0.25 or less after the machine recount, a manual recount is ordered, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office. The recount will be held Friday, and the other election results for the 10 municipalities that voted Tuesday will be certified.

Tuesday’s municipal elections in 10 towns and cities drew out more than 33,700 voters, which equates to about 28 percent turnout for registered voters in the areas.

Elected offices, charter amendments or referendums were on the ballot in Belleair, Belleair Beach, Belleair Bluffs, Clearwater, Madeira Beach, Oldsmar, Redington Beach, Redington Shores, St. Pete Beach and Tarpon Springs. Full election results are available here.

In multiple races across Pinellas, the question of development brought heightened tensions to cities as the election neared.

Two critics of Oldsmar’s move to increase downtown density and potentially develop a mixed-use apartment complex were elected in Tuesday’s municipal elections, ousting pro-density candidates, including the city’s current mayor.

Oldsmar City Council member Dan Saracki was elected mayor with about 53 percent of the vote to incumbent Eric Seidel’s 47 percent, according to unofficial results from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.

Jarrod Buchman won Oldsmar’s City Council Seat 2 with about 55 percent of the vote, beating out former Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

Saracki and Buchman have stood against the city’s plan to increase density of units allowed on a stretch of land along Tampa Road and State Street as it looks to redevelop its downtown with a mix of apartments, shops and restaurants.

The density increase has already been given the green light by Oldsmar’s City Council and the Pinellas County Commission, to be finalized after a second Council hearing. Opponents saw the election as their last shot against the plan.

Saracki said Tuesday that he will work with the city manager on a plan for the city’s downtown area “so the people of this city are happy.” He credited his win to a boots-on-the-ground campaign, saying he went door-knocking every weekend leading up to the election.

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In Tarpon Springs, an apartment complex approved by the Commission last year on green space along the Anclote River became a major point of contention in Tuesday’s election. The proposal has sparked outrage in the city, and nearly all of the candidates spoke about the ‘toxic’ political climate in the small north Pinellas city.

Costa Vatikiotis, a former city manager and sitting commissioner, won the race for mayor with about 56 percent of the vote, beating out former commissioner and artist Robin Saenger.

Vatikiotis has been an outspoken critic of the Anclote River development. At one point, the developer accused Vatikiotis of “extreme bias” and asked him to recuse himself from further commission votes on the project.

The winner of Tarpon Springs’ Commission Seat 4, Panagiotis “Peter” Koulias, has also been a vocal opponent of the apartment complex, along with Eisner, whose race will likely go to recount.

Tarpon Springs’ elections were bound to bring change regardless of the results, with four of the five Board of Commissioners seats on the ballot, with no incumbents running.

The biggest city on Tuesday’s ballot was Clearwater, where City Council member David Allbritton won a second term for District 4 and community activist Lina Teixeira won a seat for District 5.