The two candidates who garner the most votes will win the two open seats.
On Thursday, February 8, the city sponsored a candidate forum from 7 to 8 p.m. facilitated by members of the League of Women Voters and city staff. The event was held at City Hall, 7047 Sunset Dr. It was also televised on the city’s cable channel 643.
About 50 people attended the forum that featured Dan Calabria, Lari Johnson, Gail Neidinger and Arthur Penny. Currently, Johnson is serving as vice mayor-commissioner and Neidinger is a commissioner. Calabria and Penny also have previous experience on the commission, with Calabria also serving as the city’s mayor.
Judithanne McLauchlan, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and a member of the League of Women Voters, moderated the event.
The purpose of the forum was to help provide an opportunity of civic engagement toward creating an informed electorate, said McLauchlan.
A selection of questions submitted by audience members in writing was asked of the candidates. All four candidates had up to one minute to provide an answer to each question. There were no opening remarks or rebuttals during the forum.
At the beginning, McLauchlan explained that she would be asking “lightning round” questions throughout the hour that required brief one or two-word responses like “yes” or “no,” or “approve” or disapprove.”
A panel of people was responsible for reviewing audience questions for “legibility, clarity and applicability,” said McLauchlan.
The following is a highlight of answers of selected questions from the forum.
What specific city issue is most important to you?
Dan Calabria (DC): “We need a better form of government than we have.”
Gail Neidinger (GN): “The focus should be on continuing to bring business into our city.”
Arthur Penny (AP): “The most important thing to me right now is our fire station. It is in disrepair.”
Lari Johnson (LJ): “Economic revitalization drives everything. It brings in new businesses, taxes and revenue so we can keep our millage rate stable.”
The city commission has had several discussions on hiring a city manager or promoting a director to the position of city administrator. What is your opinion?
GN: “We do not need a full-time city manager. We have a need for a city administrator to handle some of the activities that go on within the operation of the city.”
AP: “I believe in the city administrator position. We could use a current employee without adding someone else.”
LJ: “We have yet to have a city manager and a city administrator come in and speak with us even though that’s been suggested. We haven’t done our due diligence at this point to know what we need. We may not need anything.”
DC: “Retired city managers would love a part-time job, which is all we need to organize everything for the city commission.”
Lightning round: Do you support building a new fire station?
Lightning round: Must property taxes be raised to pay for the new fire station?
DC: “I don’t know. Only the Finance Department can tell us that. I would support it.”
The city of approximately 5,000 that is about one square mile in size has a commission form of government comprised of five at-large members, one of whom is elected as mayor. They meet twice each month. Each commissioner oversees a city department such as public safety or community improvement while the mayor oversees all administrative services. Members serve staggered three-year terms, limited to three consecutive terms, and each receives an annual salary of $7,600. Elections are non-partisan.
In 2019, Max Elson’s post as mayor will be on the ballot. Two commission seats currently held by David Magenheimer and Gigi Esposito will be on the ballot in 2020.
To request a complete copy of the forum video to hear full responses to all questions, contact the city clerk’s office at 727-347-4171.