Pinellas candidates debate in Clearwater

09/19/08 Concetta DeLuco
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Words were their weapon of choice as the candidates for several Pinellas County offices battled it out in Clearwater on Thursday evening. Candidates for county commissioner, sheriff and property appraiser participated.

The evening heated up as the candidates for sheriff took the stage amid a small crowd of Pinellas County residents. Randall Jones is the Democratic candidate; he served in the Sheriff’s Office for 18 years. When asked about how racism within the Sheriff's Office will be dealt with, Jones said it will not be tolerated.

Greg Pound, the write-in candidate, spent the evening accusing incumbent Jim Coates of profiting from corruption within the Sheriff’s Office. He said Coates “traded his authority for money.”

Coates said that as sheriff, he has reduced crime by 27 percent; and having served 37 years with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, he said he was the most experienced and therefore the most qualified.

Randall Jones begged to differ and argued that crime has only gone down 24 percent in 2006-2007.

While property taxes, tax exemption and low housing values were some of the main issues discussed among the candidates for Property Appraiser, former appraiser Jim Smith and his land scandal became the hot topic. Last year, Smith sold his property to the county for four times its assessed value.

Pam Dubov, former chief deputy for Smith and the Republican candidate, received some heat from Democratic candidate Ben Friedlander. She was asked how she would avoid any similar occurrences if she was elected.

For the position on the board of Pinellas County Commissioners, several issues were discussed, including youth programs, curbside recycling, affordable housing and budget cuts.

Democrat Paul Matton of District 1 is running against Republican Neil Brickfield, who did not participate in the forum. Matton’s slogan reads “a businessman and a business leader.” Matton said the last thing Pinellas County needs is a professional politician. He said affordable housing is a top priority.

Republican candidate Nancy Bostock is running against Democrat Rene Flowers in District 3. Standing proudly in her place, Craig Bostock, filled in for his wife. Rene Flowers of St. Petersburg said during budget cuts, it takes a lot of consideration to determine which programs and departments can withstand the reduction. Making sure the citizens are the least affected is crucial, she said.

Incumbent Karen Seel, a Republican, and Democrat Norm Roche are the candidates for District 5. With the rise in juvenile crime in Pinellas County, the candidates were asked how they would deal with the issue in light of youth programs that have ended due to previous budget cuts.

Roche, who serves on circuit 6 juvenile justice board, said youth programs are the last thing that should be cut.

Seel addressed the issue of the lack of curbside recycling in St. Petersburg. She said that her involvement as county commissioner has launched a countywide recycling program over the past year that is still being worked on. Curbside recycling in St. Petersburg, Seel said, would most likely occur on a monthly basis and is important for the overall well being of the county.

Early voting begins Oct. 20 and the general election will be held on Nov. 4.

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