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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
Editorials

Tribune endorsements: Pasco County Commission

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With Pasco County government still in transition after the retirement of longtime executive John Gallagher in 2013 and the county still trying to diversify its economy, experience in public policymaking is a must.

That, in short, is the main reason voters on Aug. 26 should re-elect Henry Wilson to the District 4 post, and why Ken Littlefield should be the Republican nominee in District 2.

District 4

Wilson, 40, a New Port Richey resident, is seeking a second term. He is challenged by Mike D. Wells, 42, also of New Port Richey, who is making his first bid for elected office. Both are Republicans, but the primary will decide the victor and is open to all registered voters because they are the only candidates.

Wells is an appealing candidate. A Realtor in west Pasco and a former manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, he lists customer service as a top priority and says the redevelopment of the U.S. 19 corridor should be placed above new development. He is involved in many community organizations, including Junior Achievement, the YMCA and the Coastal Conservation Association.

But two things about Wells’ candidacy trouble us: He is heavily supported by a development industry that has continually pushed for scatter-gun growth in Pasco. And he “absolutely, positively” supports extending Ridge Road — a project that would cut through the Serenova preserve, jeopardizing a vast area of unspoiled wilderness and likely opening up more of Pasco to additional costly sprawl.

Wells is the son of longtime county Property Appraiser Mike Wells, himself a former county commissioner. Voters need to understand that the son is on the ballot, not the father, who was re-elected two years ago.

Wilson has become a good commissioner. He is an excellent listener who is eager to meet with community groups, a strong advocate for letting the public have its say, and doesn’t hesitate to question staff.

He was against a proposed elevated toll road across south Pasco long before state officials rejected the idea. And he stresses the need for Pasco to create more jobs — instead of sending tens of thousands of residents south across the county line to go to work.

A former director of managed care for a Tampa radiology group, Wilson was the lone vote against promoting Gallagher’s chief assistant, Michele Baker, to county administrator last year. Wilson’s reason was sound, and remains so: The county would benefit from fresh administrative leadership.

But like Wells, Wilson supports extending Ridge Road, arguing it is needed as a hurricane evacuation route. In reality, the proposal is just a money pit that already has cost taxpayers millions of dollars, with no end — or asphalt — in sight. Wilson needs to rethink that position and at the very least urge staff to realign the proposed route to protect Serenova.

Still, Wilson is no patsy for developers. He seems to have irked the industry, which for too long has gotten its way in Pasco, by agreeing with an Urban Land Institute report that stressed Pasco has more than enough approved housing units — more than 50 years worth. He has shown he deserves another term.

For Pasco County Commission, District 4, The Tampa Tribune endorses the re-election of Henry Wilson.

District 2

The winner of the District 2 race this fall succeeds Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who is retiring after two decades in office. In the Aug. 26 Republican primary, the candidates are Ken Littlefield, Mike Moore and Bob Robertson. The winner faces Erika J. Remsberg, a Democrat who lives in Land O’ Lakes, in November.

Robertson, 57, of Zephyrhills, is a self-employed certified financial planner who has served on the Lake Bernadette Community Development District, an elected position, including four years as chairman. Moore, 43, who lives in Wesley Chapel, is the founder and operator of a business sales, merger and acquisitions company. This is the first time Moore has run for public office.

Both are good candidates who are active in their communities — especially the enthusiastic Moore, who has the backing of several of Pasco’s top politicians. But Moore is getting heavy financial support from developers and builders, a concern given Pasco’s sloppy record of growth management. We also are unsure how Robertson would react to pressure from development interests.

The practical Littlefield, on the other hand, understands the value of growth but also knows when to say no. He has the experience in public office and knowledge of the county that Moore and Robertson do not. He came close to defeating Mulieri four years ago.

Littlefield, 70, of Wesley Chapel, served in the Florida House for six years, where he resisted some of the antics of then-Speaker Johnnie Byrd.

He did not seek re-election after then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to the Florida Public Service Commission. But before he could be confirmed, a new governor, Charlie Crist, replaced him. Still, Bush’s confidence in Littlefield says a lot.

Littlefield, who works for a Dade City funeral home, also ran his family’s furniture store for years and served as the director of the Statewide Advocacy Council, which works to improve the quality of life of Floridians with special and unique needs.

He stresses that growth must pay for itself and says that Pasco should concentrate on “natural growth” instead of trying to be something it’s not, an interesting perspective.

The longtime Pasco resident also supports extending Ridge Road, but he suggests it should be done in a way to allow motorists to enjoy the Serenova’s beauty: “If you can build Alligator Alley across the Everglades, surely you can build Ridge Road across the Serenova,” he says.

Although Littlefield’s support for extending the road is disappointing, he appreciates Pasco’s natural beauty, has the experience for the job and says he would challenge the old way of doing business in the county’s administrative offices. He is, by far, the best candidate in the Republican field.

For the GOP primary for Pasco County Commission District 2 on Aug. 26, The Tampa Tribune endorses Ken Littlefield.

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