Voters in three east Pasco towns decided municipal races Tuesday with political newcomers gaining seats in Zephyrhills and St. Leo.
Alan Knight defeated incumbent Jodi Wilkeson in the race for Seat 2 on the Zephyrhills City Council. Knight received about 56.9 percent of the vote to Wilkeson’s 42.8 percent in unofficial election returns.
In Dade City, incumbent Scott Black took 80.3 percent of the vote in defeating a challenge by Angie Herrera, a center director for Catholic Charities who was supported by family members of Mayor Camille Hernandez.
Herrera’s loss is considered a political setback for Hernandez, who was unopposed in her relection bid.
The mayor’s husband and son combined to donate $1,600 to Herrera’s campaign. Commissioners Jim Shive and Eunice Penix already vote with Hernandez much of the time, while Black, who has served on the city commission since 1990, has been critical of the mayor. A win by Herrera would have given the mayor a super-majority of votes on the city commission.
The most dramatic race took place in the small town of St. Leo, as challenger Raphael “Ray” Davis defeated incumbent Sister Donna DeWitt by a four vote margin (59 to 55 votes). Election officials said Davis received three of the last four absentee votes counted Tuesday night.
Though the margin was slim, the stakes were high in the St. Leo race, with the future of the town hanging in the balance. Davis was one of eight Lake Jovita residents who signed a petition last August seeking the dissolution of the town. He said he doesn’t remember signing the petition, which was notarized and presented to the town commission.
Homeowners in the gated, golf community of Lake Jovita gained a majority on the town commission in 2012 and have pushed through an agenda to either remove their homes from the town boundaries or dissolve it completely.
The Florida Legislature is currently considering a local bill (HB1401) to deannex Lake Jovita from the town - it passed the Local and Federal Affairs committee Thursday. If the bill passes, three sitting commissioners (Mayor John Gardner, Robert Inslee and James Wells) would no longer be eligible to hold office. Gardner is not seeking reelection, and town resident Richard Christmas ran unopposed for his seat.
With Davis’ win, the Lake Jovita voting block will still hold a majority on the commission - giving them the votes to dissolve the town if the Legislature doesn’t approve HB1401 or if the governor doesn’t sign it into law.
Davis has said that’s not his intent. He said he hopes the bill passes, which means he’d be off the commission. But if it doesn’t, he wants to lend his credentials - including an MBA and a degree in construction management - to the town commission.
If the bill does become law, then the commissioners who are de-annexed from the town would resign their seats and the remaining commissioners could appoint successors.
In Zephyrhills, Knight had criticized Wilkeson for requesting a third legal opinion to clarify whether City Manager Jim Drumm could be terminated if his contract isn’t renewed before it expires this summer. He called the move a waste of money, but Wilkeson defended the vote, saying Drumm has threatened to sue the city if he isn’t retained.
Wilkeson had not joined with other council members in a move to fire Drumm.
An architect, Wilkeson had served six years on the city council. Knight is a retired educator who served as football coach and principal at Zephyrhills High School.
“I am very proud and very humbled that the people of Zephyrhills would choose me and I will strive very hard to follow through with my commitments and will continue to support the people who make the wheels go round - the city employees,” Knight said. “My next commitment is the Hercules Park and my third commitment is to support controlled and positive growth for our city.”
Wilkeson said: “The people have spoken and I accept their decision and congratulate Mr. Knight. I understand the decision that was made and am moving forward.”
In Port Richey, Mayor Eloise Taylor won reelection by defeating newcomer Kathy Todd by a margin of 52.6 percent to 47.1 percent.
In the New Port Richey mayor’s race, former councilman Rob Marlowe defeated Bob Langford by a 54.8 to 44.9 percent margin. Both former councilmen were competing to succeed Mayor Bob Consalvo.