SEMINOLE — Five candidates — two incumbents, a former council member and two newcomers — are vying for two seats on the City Council as Pinellas County’s youngest municipality looks forward to its 50th year of incorporation.
The city’s growth over the past half-century, with a population increase from 2,700 to 18,865, is uppermost on the mind of each candidate. Where some of them differ is in what they perceive as the biggest challenge to keeping up with continued growth over the next decade.
Chris Burke, running for his third term, is focused on creating a more uniform appearance along the city’s main business corridor. The project already is under way, Burke said, in the form of a partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation to beautify the Bay Pines stretch of Seminole Boulevard.
“I want Seminole to come together so that as soon as you cross that border into the city you get this feeling, ‘This is nice. This is Seminole,’ ” he said.
Burke favors offering incentives to business owners to improve the appearance of their storefronts, which he considers the responsibility of city government.
“We can’t help them sell more widgets, but we can help make their businesses look better,” Burke said.
Fellow incumbent Trish Springer, running for her second term, echoes Burke’s concern about the appearance of the business corridor, particularly the blocks along Seminole Boulevard from 54th Avenue to 102nd Avenue.
She’s also concerned about wear and tear on infrastructure and roadways from more people and increased traffic.
“The main thing I hear from residents when I go campaigning door to door is that they want the upgrades to be done properly,” Springer said. “We want to do it right this time around and not just lay down asphalt to cover it like a Band-Aid.”
Dan Hester, who served two terms on the council from 2005-10, sees the city’s continued ability to generate revenue as its biggest challenge.
While the city’s success in holding the property tax steady for the past 12 years is commendable, Hester said, additional sources must be identified if the city is to maintain the same level of services as it continues to grow.
Closely linked to this challenge is the need to prioritize projects, which will require citizen input, something Hester said council members sometimes overlook.
“You can’t just let developers and politicians make the decisions,” he said. “You have to have ideas from the people who live in the city.”
First-time council candidate Tom Marrah said he’s happy with the way Seminole has grown in recent years. He’s running for a council seat because he wants to ensure that development continues to move forward.
He also wants to see resources allocated for residents as well as businesses.
“In talking with citizens, I’m hearing them say the city is pushing growth in some areas but ignoring neighborhoods,” Marrah said. “I want smart spending on things like neighborhood sidewalks.”
The council’s role in citizen advocacy should extend to enforcing ordinances and going to bat for residents dealing with bureaucracy, Marrah said, citing what he considers a slow response from Duke Energy to power outages in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
For political newcomer Kelly Wissing, the most pressing challenge facing the city is a lack of communication. Creating stronger communication channels, including more savvy use of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat — as well as “good old-fashioned signage” — would be her first priority.
“There are so many things that take place like Music in the Park that our residents have no idea about,” Wissing said. “It breaks my heart when I hear a resident say, ‘I didn’t know that was going on.’ ”
She suspects a similar communication deficit extends to the ranks of city employees and would work with the city manager to identify more channels for two-way conversations.
Along with her fellow candidates, Wissing said she would champion new business growth. Pointing to an upsurge in “grassroots businesses” in downtown St. Petersburg, she said she would encourage similar development in Seminole.
The top two vote-getters among the five candidates will serve three-year terms and will be paid $8,200 a year. The nonpartisan election takes place Nov. 6.
For information about the election, go to http://www.myseminole.com.
About the candidates:
Chris Burke, 53
40-year Seminole resident
6 years on Seminole City Council
29 years with the Largo Police Department
U.S. Army veteran
Trish Springer, 52
30-year Seminole resident
3 years on Seminole City Council
Owner, Springer Electric
30 years experience in insurance industry
Dan Hester, 63
30-year Seminole resident
Served on Seminole City Council 2005-10
30 years experience in business and finance
Longtime animal rights activist
Tom Marrah, 60
23-year Seminole resident
Compression operator for manufacturing company
Seminole Recreation Center volunteer
U.S. Navy veteran
Kelly Wissing, 43
Lifelong Seminole resident
School Advisory Council chair, Starkey Elementary