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Tight race for Pinellas County commission: A Times editorial board recommendation
A newcomer is taking on a two-term incumbent.
First-time candidate Brian Scott (left) faces incumbent Pat Gerard in a Pinellas County Commission race.
First-time candidate Brian Scott (left) faces incumbent Pat Gerard in a Pinellas County Commission race. [ Courtesy of Brandi Image Photography / Douglas R. Clifford | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 18, 2022

The Pinellas County Commission faces several big issues in the years ahead, including improving transportation, addressing sea level rise and ensuring the most densely populated county in the state makes good land use decisions. There is only one seat on the seven-member commission up for grabs in the Nov. 8 general election. Commissioners serve four-year terms and are paid $105,800 a year.

Related: Read the Times recommendations in other races.

District 2 (countywide) - Pat Gerard, Democrat

Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard
Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard [ Courtesy of Pat Gerard ]

Pinellas voters have two solid, if contrasting, choices in this race — a veteran commissioner with a good track record versus a political newcomer with the business experience to help improve the county’s transportation system. They both have reputations as commonsense thinkers who would look out for the best interests of the county. We give the edge to incumbent Pat Gerard.

Gerard, 72, was first elected to the commission in 2014, helping secure the first Democratic majority on the County Commission in 50 years. She had served as Largo’s mayor and as a city commissioner. She has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from the University of South Florida and spent a 40-year career in human services, including as director of a spouse abuse shelter and chief operating officer for the nonprofit Family Resources Inc.

Gerard has an obvious grasp of county affairs, whether she’s talking about affordable housing projects, leaky sewer pipes affecting the environment, the problems with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority or weighing the benefits of installing sidewalks versus those same sidewalks increasing the likelihood of local flooding by giving the water fewer places to go.

Gerard isn’t one to engage in partisan political shenanigans. She helps build consensus and promotes congeniality on the commission. After all, county commission is more about ensuring parks are maintained, drinking water is clean, and that people feel safe in their homes. And, of course, it’s about spending wisely and balancing budgets. The commission is not a place for political flame throwing. If sewers are overflowing, affected residents don’t care whether Democrats or Republicans (or both) solve the problem, as long as the problem is actually solved. Gerard has proven over the last eight years that she understands that role.

Gerard’s opponent, Brian Scott, earned this editorial board’s recommendation in the Republican primary, a race he easily won. (Gerard did not face any primary opponents.) He said he got into the race after he served on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority from 2012-2018 and came away thinking that government inertia in the transit system was keeping it from best serving residents. He also wasn’t pleased with parts of the county’s COVID-19 response, including closing beaches and certain mask requirements.

Scott, 54, is president and owner of Escot Bus Lines and is well-versed in transportation issues. He’s on the right track with his focus on ensuring that the transit system favors riders and not just building more big projects. Besides the PSTA, he has sat on the citizens advisory committee of Forward Pinellas and the county’s Parks and Advisory Conservation Resources board.

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He calls himself a “less government” Republican. If elected, he said his business background would help the commission ferret out wasteful spending. Maybe so, but the suggestion that Gerard is a tax-and-spend liberal isn’t convincing for several reasons, including that she supports lowering this year’s general fund millage rate — or the rate at which property is taxed by the county. The commission rolled it back slightly last year, too.

Gerard and Scott have raised more than $300,000 each in campaign contributions, an extraordinary combined amount for a Pinellas commission race. This will almost certainly be a tight contest. Gerard, though, deserves the chance to carry on what she has started. She’s a steady presence on the commission and voters should give her another term.

For Pinellas County commission District 2, the Times recommends Pat Gerard.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.