Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala holds back the tears as she tells fellow commissioners she is not seeking re-election during a Jan. 28 commission meeting.
CLEARWATER – In a surprise move, longtime Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala announced Jan. 28 that she is not seeking reelection in November.
Latvala had previously announced that she would run to keep her job representing District 4. Her name still appears with seven others as announced on the Supervisor of Elections website.
If Latvala had stayed in the race, she likely would have faced several competitors in the Aug. 26 Republican primary, as Scott Fisher, Timothy Keffalas and Wanda Kimsey had already announced they would run. So far, only Jack McAdoo has announced for the Democrats. Two other announced candidates, Dustan Showers and Marcus Harrison, are not affiliated with any party.
Since Latvala dropped out of the race, two more Republicans have jumped in. Johnny Johnson Jr. is a new name on the list of announced on the Supervisor of Elections website. Former County Commissioner Neil Brickfield posted on his Facebook page that he was jumping into the race as of Jan. 31.
Brickfield brings the list of announced candidates to eight – five Republicans, one Democrat and two NPAs. Brickfield is perhaps the most known candidate. He represented District 1 on the county commission from 2008-2012 and is a former Safety Harbor Commissioner.
Latvala was one of four commissioners targeted by a group of citizens in what was commonly referred to as the “eight is enough” lawsuit filed in 2012. The citizens claimed the commission’s longest-serving members were in violation of term limits approved by referendum in 1996 but never implemented. The state Supreme Court ruled term limits unconstitutional before they were ever added to the Pinellas County Charter.
In the end, a Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the commissioners. His opinion concurred with the county attorney’s that a 2012 Supreme Court decision on term limits could not be applied retroactivity in Pinellas. Latvala, Seel, Welch and Morroni are free to run for election as many times as they want.
Morroni, who also was elected to the commission in 2000, has announced his bid for reelection in November. Two others have announced a run for the District 6 seat – fellow Republican Thomas Rask and Libertarian of Florida candidate Jack Harris.
Commissioner Norm Roche is seeking a second term representing District 2 in November. Fellow Republican Ed Hooper has announced that he is running and Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, a Democrat, also has announced.
Potential candidates still must qualify during the qualifying period in May and June.
Hard decision for the incumbent
After much soul-searching, Latvala said Jan. 28, “I’ve decided not to seek re-election.”
She said her “kids were in high school” when she first ran for election.
“Now they are 35 and 36 and fixing to give me a grandchild,” she said.
Latvala became somewhat emotional as she made her surprise announcement. She said serving on the commission was the “greatest honor of my life.”
“You will be missed, but family is No. 1,” said Commissioner John Morroni – one of the first to speak after a moment of shocked silence. “You will be missed.”
“It was a real honor to serve with you,” Commissioner Ken Welch added. “I really am bummed out now.”
Commission Chair Karen Seel said, “I’m bummed out too and a little surprised, but family comes first.”
Seel added that serving on the commission often means that family has to come second.
Seel made public Latvala’s engagement to Jay Powers when she congratulated the couple at a recent commission meeting.
Long career of service
Latvala was first elected to serve District 4 on the county commission in 2000. Prior to that, starting in 1992, she served two terms on the Pinellas County School Board. She is currently the commission’s vice-chair, and by tradition, most likely would have been picked to serve as chair next year.
Latvala currently serves as the chair of Tampa Bay Water. She is chair of the MPO’s School Transportation Safety Committee, the county’s Business Technology Services Board, the Consolidated Justice Information Systems Committee and Prescription Drug Task Force. She is a member of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board and the county’s Health and Human Services Coordinating Council.
She is past chair of the Tourist Development Council, Economic Development Council, Public Safety Coordinating Council and the county’s Value Adjustment Board. She is a former member of the county’s Charter Review Commission.
She has served on many statewide boards, and is currently an executive board member for the Florida Association of Counties. She also serves on the board of a number of local civic organizations.