By Sheila Mullane Estrada
MADEIRA BEACH — Voters here can either end or continue the city's divisive politics on March 13. They will also decide how the city grows.
The two commission seats that now represent pro-growth and pro-development views — and are often overridden by a three-vote slower-growth majority voted into office last year — will be on the ballot.
District 1 incumbent Terry Lister will face longtime activist Deby Weinstein while District 2 incumbent Nancy Hodges will face newcomer Eric Breslin.
Both Weinstein and Breslin say they support the actions of the current commission majority while the two incumbent candidates are largely opposed.
Complicating the question of which viewpoint will ultimately prevail is a petition drive to force a recall election against two of the commission majority: Vice Mayor John Douthirt and Commissioner Nancy Oakley.
First-round petitions gathered enough signatures and second-round recall petitions are circulating throughout the city. Lister and Hodges signed both petitions.
If enough signatures are collected, a recall election asking voters to decide whether to toss Douthirt and Oakley out of office will be required under state law and will likely happen after the March election.
Unless, that is, either Douthirt or Oakley or the commission as a whole challenge the recall grounds in court as "insufficient" to meet state law.
At issue is whether a commission vote to hire a budget director last summer, an act taken on the recommendation of the then-city attorney, violated the city charter and therefore was "malfeasance".
Another issue that distinguishes the candidates from each other is whether the commission should pick a new city manager just weeks before the March election.
The previous manager, Shane Crawford, resigned to avoid being fired. He has re-applied for the job.
Both Lister and Hodges, who supported Crawford, want the commission to wait until after the election. Weinstein wants the current commission to make the decision. Breslin favors either a near-unanimous decision now or a delay in the event of a 3-2 split.
Here are the candidates:
DISTRICT 1 (two-year term, elected citywide; $7,500 annual salary)
• Terry Lister, 61, is seeking his sixth term. Lister is a native of Texas, and moved to Madeira Beach in 1982. He earned an Associates Degree in music from Richland College and is a certified Class B contractor. He is a property manager. Lister served in the Marine Corps and received an honorable discharge. He is married and is awaiting a new granddaughter.
Lister is strongly opposed to the current commission majority which he says "has taken city in wrong direction. I don't believe they care about city businesses. I care about both residents and business. We are a city with a tourism economy."
He feels his viewpoint on the best future for the city essentially won when the commission recently approved settlements with two hotel developments.
As such, he wants to focus his next term on citywide beautification, repair and replacement of beach groins, development of restaurants on the beach, coordinated bus stop designs, stormwater improvements, and keeping low property taxes.
•Deby Weinstein, 74, is seeking elective office for the first time. She has lived in the city for 38 years. She is retired from the health insurance industry and has performed part-time accounting for organizations. She attended Woman's College of Georgia and in 2005 was named Madeira Beach Citizen of the Year.
She has served on the Madeira Beach Crime Watch, helped organize the John's Pass Seafood Festival and Arts and Crafts Show, was chairman of the city's Civil Service Commission, and is a charter member of the Madeira Beach Taxpayers Association. She sits on the city's Budget Review Committee. Her late husband, Hugh LaMont, was a former mayor.
Weinstein strongly opposed 11-story hotel development in the downtown area and criticized the cost and subsequent debt resulting from building a new city hall and recreational complex.
She doubts the legitimacy of the recent recall effort, stressing that elected officials should not be recalled just because people don't like them.
"I think I'm ready to serve. I am a very involved citizen, speaking my views at commission meetings and advocating for my neighborhood," Weinstein said. "Now is the time to stand up and have a vote instead of just talking."
DISTRICT 2 (two-year term, elected city-wide; $7,500 annual salary)
• Eric Breslin, 43, has been a city resident since 2013 and is originally from Colorado. He is an electrician and works in the estimating department of Tampa-based D & S Electrical Technologies. He is a past Exalted Ruler and member of the board of directors of the Madeira Beach Elks Lodge. This is his first attempt at public office.
"My decision to run for District 2 Commissioner seat evolved after watching the many changes the city has gone through the recent years. With my experience in the construction trade, I feel I will be able to help improve the city by facilitating control in its growth, maintaining our small town and friendly feel," Breslin said.
He said citizens want the city's "neglected roads" repaved, power lines buried underground, and more effective government communications with residents.
He is married and has two grown children.
• Nancy Hodges, 68, is seeking her fourth term. She previously served on the city's Planning Board and is a member of the Rotary Club of the Gulf Beaches. Hodges moved to the city in 1992 from Jacksonville where she and her late husband owned an insurance agency. She grew up in St. Petersburg and attended local schools.
Despite being frequently outvoted on the commission, Hodges says she want to remain "because I really care about the city".
She said she wants "better things" to happen for the city and hopes the commission can "settle down" and do something "productive".
For Hodges that means new hotel and motel developments, and creating the kinds of activities that will attract both visitors and residents.
"We are a tourist town and we need people to come here to survive," Hodges says, adding that she is "proud" to serve on the commission and the work she has done to improve the city.