After re-electing county commissioners Ted Schrader and Jack Mariano in the Republican Party primary in August, Pasco County voters now are faced with replacing longtime Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who is retiring after 28 years, in District 3. It will be a big chore, but we feel Kathryn Starkey is up to the task.
Starkey, 55, who bested four others in the GOP primary with 43 percent of the vote, faces Matt Murphy, a New Port Richey Democrat, on Nov. 6. District 3 stretches along the south county line from New Port Richey to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Wesley Chapel.
Murphy, 42, is an Air Force veteran who works as a project manager for a major utility contractor and is in charge of the company's Northeast United States territory. He touts his more than 20 years of experience in building utility infrastructure in cities and counties.
Sincere, with a pleasant demeanor, he has lived most of his life in Pasco and has been active in the community, though this is his first time seeking public office. He says he would resign his job, which requires commutes to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., should he be elected.
Murphy has a strong understanding of Pasco's need to diversify its economy by attracting more business and industry. He proposes encouraging more venture capitalists to take an interest in Pasco. "We don't need to go back to homebuilding as an anchor," he explains. He cites the need to protect Pasco's natural beauty and stresses that growth should be directed to areas with the infrastructure that can handle it.
Any other time, Murphy would be an ideal candidate. But in this race he is going against Starkey, a dynamo who has an extensive record of public service and getting things done across several platforms. She would be a strong addition to the commission.
Starkey founded Scenic Pasco in the late 1990s and was a force behind the county finally controlling billboard blight. She helped rewrite the blueprint for growth, the comprehensive land-use plan, and also served on a committee that reviewed proposed ordinances. As a school Board member for six years, she was a major advocate for co-locating county and school facilities to save money and pushed to create career academies, which have inspired students.
Starkey was appointed twice by Gov. Jeb Bush to serve on the Pinellas-Anclote River Basin Board. Since 2000 she has been a member of the Florida State Greenways and Trails Council — appointed by then-Florida Senate President John McKay and reappointed by Bush and Gov. Charlie Crist. And she has been involved in numerous community causes, including helping found the Gills Family YMCA and serving as president of the West Pasco All-Children's Hospital Guild.
Starkey, a senior adviser for a business development firm, says bringing jobs to the county is her top priority. One key, she says, is to "reorganize" the permitting department and the permitting process, which she says is not business friendly. She says she would work to eliminate wasteful or duplicative programs to keep taxes low. And she says she would continue protecting natural resources and work to expand the county's parks system and trails.
Murphy's chief criticism of Starkey is her connections to the development industry — her family is in the business — and suggests she wouldn't be objective. But we have known Starkey long enough to know she would never compromise her office. Starkey also recognizes how irresponsible development harms taxpayers and the environment.
The Tribune strongly endorses Kathryn Starkey for Pasco County Commission, District 3.