Four of seven seats on the Pinellas County Commission come open this year. The Nov. 6 election will decide who will fill three of the four positions.
No one stepped up to challenge Karen Seel for the District 5 seat. Without an opponent, Seel, the longest serving on the commission, wins another term by default. Another long-time commissioner Ken Welch, who represents District 7, faces political newcomer Buck Walz.
Former elected officials at the state level are challenging two incumbent commissioners, who are ending their first term in office. Nancy Bostock faces Charlie Justice for the District 3 seat and Neil Brickfield is up against Janet Long for District 1.
Tampa Bay Newspapers asked the candidates to complete a questionnaire to help readers get to know them better and get an idea of their views.
Brickfield versus Long for District 1
Incumbent Neil Brickfield is being challenged by Janet Long to represent District 1 on the Pinellas County Commission.
Republican Neil Brickfield, 49, is married to Kelley Brickfield. They have three children, ages 18, 16 and 14. He lives in Safety Harbor and has lived in Pinellas County since 1989. He received his bachelor’s in sociology from Providence College in 1985.
Democrat Janet Long, 68, is married to Richard L. Long. They have three children, ages 43, 33 and 31. Long’s hometown is Kezar Falls, Maine. She has lived in Pinellas since 1972. Long’s education includes study at Fryeburg Academy, Fryeburg, Maine; Nasson College, Springvale, Maine; Berkeley School, New York City, N.Y.; St. Petersburg College, St. Petersburg and Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, among other training.
Brickfield’s employment history includes one term as a Pinellas County Commissioner and ownership of Brickfield and Associates Inc.
Long’s history includes work as the director of advancement at Clearwater Catholic High School, 2002-2010; her service on the Florida state legislature, 2006-2010; work as president of JCL & Associates, 1998-2012; service on the Seminole City Council, 2002-2006; and deputy insurance commissioner, 1987-1998.
Qualifications for office
Brickfield’s list of qualifications includes being the owner of a small business for more than 20 years and his service on the Board of County Commissioners. Prior to being elected to the county board in 2008, he served on the Safety Harbor City Commission. As a county commissioner, he has served on the board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees transportation issues; Tampa Bay Water, which provides clean potable water; and on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which deals with region-wide issues.
When asked what made him better qualified than his opponent, Brickfield wrote, “Over the past four years, I have had the honor to be part of a Commission that faced the challenge of reducing our budget by 32 percent while delivering services to you. We have been successful and our County’s recent poll of our citizens backs us up.
“By a margin of three to one, our residents say Pinellas is a great place to raise a family; by four to one margins, our residents say Pinellas is a great place to live and retire. Do you agree? I do! We are smaller and more efficient government and our quality of life remains great!”
Long says she offers a lifetime of public policy experience, advocacy and budgeting, as well as commonsense, leadership skills, judgment and ability to build consensus on very complex issues. She also says those qualifications make her the better opponent.
Why run for office?
Brickfield said he is running to keep public safety the No. 1 priority, bring better jobs to Pinellas County, improve transportation and “watch our spending dollar by dollar.”
“I think Pinellas is a special place to live with the promise of a tomorrow that’s better than today. I believe if we stick to basics, we will have a better Pinellas for all of us.
When asked what he hopes to accomplish, he talked about continuing to improve the local job market and economy, as well as tackling and finding a solution to the Emergency Medical Services challenge, while keeping the budget balances, taxes low and government efficient.
Long says she want to be a county commissioner “because of my deep concern that policy decisions made by my opponent fail to adequately serve the people of Pinellas County.”
“Until recently, Pinellas County enjoyed a thoughtful, progressive County Commission that made decisions to benefit everyone, not just an angry vocal minority. My children grew up here. Now I have grandchildren here. I want them to enjoy the quality of life that Pinellas County was known for. My opponent has not demonstrated that he can make decisions that will enable Pinellas to regain is stature in our region.”
She said she wants to make certain public tax dollars are “not being wasted on more studies simply because the Commission doesn’t have the strength or the political will to do what is right.”
“I will demand solutions to enable our fire and EMS system to be sustainable and more efficient,” she said. “I want to see our public transportation system upgraded and brought into the 21st Century. And like most citizens I hear from, I want fluoride put back in our water to ensure the public health and safety of all of our citizens.”
Most pressing issue
Candidates were asked to name the most pressing issue facing the Pinellas County Commission and offer their best solution.
Brickfield gave two related issues as the most pressing – jobs and the economy. He said the Commission was actively working to recruit new businesses.
“We combed through our capital budget to get all construction projects we could afford out to bid to put people to work today,” he said. “We met for the first time with the Pinellas County School Board and St. Petersburg College to make sure we are all heading in the same economic development direction. We are capitalizing on our strengths like tourism up 17 percent this year; manufacturing jobs are available and new jobs being added to companies today.”
He said according to Pinellas County Economic Development Office, the county’s workforce has grown by more than 13,000 jobs this year.
Long said that resolving the fire and EMS issues that have “plagued our county for three decades is paramount.”
“The commission kicks the can down the road by constantly asking for another study. At some point, you get all of the information and you move forward. We can still have the best system without constantly raising taxes. That will take courage, knowledge and the willingness to do the right thing.”
Her solution to the problem depends on a new study currently underway.
“At this point, when the new study is done – important decisions have to be made. I will be able to make a decision.”
Incumbent Nancy Bostock is being challenged by Charlie Justice to represent District 3 on the Pinellas County Commission.
Republican Nancy Bostock, 44, and her husband, Craig W. Bostock, have three children, ages 15, 16 and 18. She lives in Clearwater and is a lifetime Pinellas County resident. She is a 1986 graduate of Clearwater High School. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Florida in 1989 and her masters from the same school in 1998. She spent a year in graduate studies at Georgetown University Law Center, 1990-1991.
Democrat Charlie Justice, 44, and his wife, Kathleen, have two children, ages 7 and 10. He lives in St. Petersburg and also is a lifetime resident of Pinellas. He attended Pinellas County schools before receiving an associate’s degree from St. Petersburg College and a bachelor degree from the University of South Florida.
Bostock's employment history includes one term on the County Commission, service on the Pinellas County School Board, 1998-2008; at-home mom, 1994-1998; part-time graduate school assistant at Southwest Florida Water Management District, 1997-1998; teacher at Oldsmar Christian School, 1991-1993; and probation officer at Salvation Army Correctional Services, 1990.
Justice is coordinator of leadership development and programming at USF St. Petersburg. He served as state senator from 2006-2010 and state representative from 2000-2006.
Among her qualifications for office, Bostock lists that she was born and raised in Pinellas and has made the county her home with her husband and children. She names 23 organizations, boards and committees on which she has served and donated her time in a variety of capacities.
“Pinellas citizens elected me three times in countywide elections to serve them and our students on the Pinellas County School Board,” she said. “And the School Board members elected me twice to serve as chair of the School Board.”
She said her experience on the school board, “balancing the needs of our 100,000-plus students and managing the $1.2 billion-plus budget within our dynamic county of almost one million prepared me well for the challenges we faced during my first term on the County Commission.”
Bostock believes she is the best-qualified candidate to represent District 3 because of citizen support.
“In 2008, I asked the citizens of Pinellas County to ‘Back Bostock’ for County Commission – and they did! We have focused on providing our citizens with the high quality essential services you expect from county in spite of a 30 percent decline in revenues,” she said. “We’ve accomplished this with fiscally responsible decisions, effective and efficient use of taxpayer resources and increased accountability.”
She also pointed to her past service in Pinellas.
“Local government is government closest to the people, and we work very differently than the often adversarial, partisan legislature where my opponent has served,” she said.
Justice pointed to his native-son status as a qualification to serve as a county commissioner. He pointed to his “lifetime of community service, including 10 years in the Florida Legislature. My life experiences have prepared me for this position.”
“I am very proud of my record in the Florida Legislature,” he said, as one reason he is the more qualified candidate. “I would compare my record of votes and decision making. I have experience evaluating large amounts of complex information and being able to cast a vote representing our community.
“Unlike my opponent, I will always oppose oil drilling off our beaches. I will support strong standards on fertilizer runoff in our lakes and ponds. I support returning fluoride to our water, and I will never support balancing the county budget by cutting the minimal support that Pinellas provides for Meals on Wheels.”
Why run for office?
Bostock said she is running for County Commission “to work together with our citizens to make decisions that are good for our community.”
“Sometimes those decisions can be tough, but they are necessary to remain financially sound,” she said. “I will continue to focus on providing the high quality essential services on which our citizens depend while not increasing the financial burden of increased taxes on our citizens.
“We must prioritize the services that affect our safety: law enforcement, disaster preparedness and emergency medical services – services we don’t necessarily think about but rely upon all the same: sewers, our solid waste facility, stormwater management; and services that affect our quality of life: our beautiful beaches, parks and roads.”
When asked what she hopes to accomplish with another term in office, she talked about creating a healthy environment for “our local businesses to be successful and in which to create additional jobs, to continue to provide the high quality of services on which our citizens depend without increasing the tax burden upon those same citizens and to make Pinellas a better place for all of us.”
Justice is running because he wants “to restore sound decision making to our commission.”
“I think that our quality of life is at stake during this election,” he said. “We have the opportunity to move Pinellas forward. I believe the current commission has taken us backwards with some of their policies. I want my children and your grandchildren to enjoy the same wonderful hometown that I am so proud to have growing up here.”
What he hopes to accomplish, if elected, is “to better connect our Commission to the nearly 300,000 Pinellas residents that live in unincorporated Pinellas to their local government.”
“I believe I can play an integral role in improving relations between our County, the 24 municipalities and the many special districts,” he said. “There are important issues facing Pinellas over the coming years and we need leaders on the Commission who will make decisions that are right for our entire community, not just the loudest voices in the room on a given day.”
Most pressing issue
Bostock said the most pressing issue facing the Commission “is our tough economy and how it is affecting so many of our citizens.”
She listed three areas that she feels are key to helping “citizens during these difficult times.”
The first is the budget. She believes making careful financial decision is “essential to balancing our need to provide essential services to our citizens with the current state of declining property tax revenues.”
“We must focus on our most important services, like public safety, without raising taxes on our citizens, so many of whom are struggling in this economy,” she said.
Next on her list are jobs.
“Creating a climate which helps, not hinders, our local businesses is essential to creating jobs and expanding economic opportunities for our citizens,” she said.
She said one way to help with job creation is working together with other agencies in the community to “eliminate barriers and red tape,” something she says is “crucial for the success of our small businesses and the growth of jobs for our citizens.”
Lastly, Bostock points to accountability as a major issue for the Commission.
“It is essential that we use our taxpayers’ resources in the most effective and efficient manner possible and be open and responsive to our citizens, who after all, are the people paying for it all,” she said.
Justice said, “Our quality of life is the over-arching issue facing the Commission.”
“Included in that are important decisions dealing with transportation, emergency management systems, taxes, emergency preparedness and supporting the needed services provided including those from our Constitutional Officers,” he said.
Justice said he is “looking forward to providing leadership and sound decision-making aptitude.”
“I know that my legislative experience has provided me the skills and judgment to enact the right policies for Pinellas,” he said. “I will make decisions that are right for our entire community, not just a loud group with extreme viewpoints.”
Incumbent Ken Welch, left, is being challenged by Buck Walz to represent District 7 on the Pinellas County Commission.
Democrat Ken Welch, 47, and his wife, Donna, have two children, ages 19 and 10. Welch is a native of Pinellas County and still lives in his hometown of St. Petersburg. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting from the University of South Florida, a master’s degree in business administration from Florida A&M University.
Republican Buck Walz, 33, and his fiancée JoAnne Dugan have one son, age 6. He also is a native of Pinellas County and lives in his hometown of St. Petersburg. He did not complete the education portion of the questionnaire, but indicated that he is a college graduate.
Welch’s employment history includes representing District 7 since 2000. He was associate vice president of business services at St. Petersburg College from 2006 to 2011; senior accountant, IT analyst, systems administrator at Florida Power Company, 1987-2001; and has owned Welch Accounting Services IT & Electronic Filing Manager from 1993 to present.
Walz said that shortly after graduating college he began managing The Florida Fun Factory “until insurance spikes shut us down permanently. I was quickly picked up by The Concrete Steel Glass Company as a project manager where I found my current position as the operations manager for Carroll’s Building Materials here in St. Petersburg.”
Welch prefaced a long list of service by saying “I bring a strong record of community service, business management experience and proven leadership at the local and state level.”
He is currently vice-chair of the County Commission, chair of the Homeless Leadership Board, vice-chair of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board of Directors, president-elect of the Florida Association of Counties and a member of the Pinellas Career Education Fund Board.
In the past, he has served on the St. Petersburg Junior College Board of Trustees, Pinellas County Tourist Development Council, Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board, WorkNet Pinellas, Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, United Way of Tampa Bay Board of Directors, St. Pete YMCA Board of Directors among others.
He said his “strong record of leadership and collaboration, both in Pinellas County and statewide,” make him best qualified to represent District 7 on the County Commission.
“I’ve led on public safety, housing, homelessness, youth, economic development, environmental and other core issues,” he said. “Along the way, I’ve received leadership awards from our Florida Association of Counties, County firefighters, Catholic Charities, the Florida Homeless Coalition and other organizations for leadership on important issues facing our community.”
Walz did not complete the section on qualifications for office, but he did talk about why he was the best-qualified candidate.
“I have managed to survive the hard economic downturn we have had these past six-plus years. We went from 65 employees (at Carroll’s) down to 23 and back up to over 30,” he said. “We have grown 11 to 13 percent for the past four years despite the construction industry becoming decimated here in Pinellas County. I know what it takes to make real, difficult decisions that affect people personally.
“I do not have anything bad to say about my opponent, but he has not lived day in and day out, scratching and clawing a living out of the private sector in more than a decade. We disagree on a number of issues. It is time for a fresh perspective from an honest, educated, hardworking common-man with commonsense.
“In the private sector, you have to be creative to fall within your budget. You do not have the luxury of raising taxes because business is slow. You have to live within your means. Why should local government be allowed to operate any differently at our expense.”
Why run for office
Welch said he is running for another term because “our county needs strong, proven leadership in a time of unprecedented fiscal and community challenges.”
When asked what he hopes to accomplish, he said, “There are many areas that I will continue to address. Stabilizing the EMS system and implementing fire-based transport, modernizing our transportation system and continuing our strategic initiative to streamline, consolidate and improve local government services while achieving better outcomes for the taxpayer’s dollar.”
Walz said he is running for office because he wants “to leave a healthy vibrant Pinellas County to our next generation just like it was handed down to us.”
His answer to what he hopes to accomplish was “we need to cultivate an environment that allows small business to flourish while providing the services required to keep our residents safe and secure.”
Most pressing issue
“Our greatest challenge is balancing increasing demands for services – from public safety to community development and parks – in an era of declining revenues,” Welch said.
“I have a strong record of leadership on difficult issues,” he continued, answering the question of what he would do about the county’s major issues. “My leadership roles have been countywide and collaborative and have produced real solutions. I will continue to apply that approach to the challenges before us – so that we work smarter, more collaboratively and more strategically.”
Walz said the biggest issue facing county leaders is the budget. He then talked about what he would do about it.
“We have made cuts, but we are still facing a budget shortfall,” he said. “We need to provide the essential services required by Pinellas County Charter and eliminate anything that is not required. We need to consolidate and streamline services to make our County employees more efficient.”