Former State Representative Ed Hooper is challenging incumbent Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche for the District 2 seat in the Aug. 26 primary.
The winner of the primary election will face Democrat Pat Gerard in November.
District 2 includes portions of Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Bluffs and Largo. Because the seat is an at-large position, all registered Republicans, regardless of where they live, are eligible to help choose a candidate to run in the November election.
Tampa Bay Newspapers sent out a candidate questionnaire to provide readers with information to assist them with their decisions. Candidates were asked to keep their answers as short as possible.
About the candidates
Roche, 52, lives in Dunedin. He has lived in Pinellas for 43 years. He is married. He and his wife, Joy, have three children – Katie, age 27, Megan, 23 and Michael, 17.
He was elected to the county commission in 2010, after working more than 20 years in the private sector and more than 13 years for Pinellas County. He graduated from Pinellas Park High School in 1980. He attended St. Pete Junior College, Florida State University and Eckerd College. He did not seek a specific degree.
In the category of community service, Roche listed his time on the county commission, as well as serving as chairman of the Pinellas County Public Safety Coordinating County. He is a board member on the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas and Licensing Board for Children’s Daycare Centers and Homes. He is a community adviser for Clothes to Kids and a level-2 volunteers with 25 years of service at Pinellas County schools.
Hooper, 66, lives in Clearwater. He has lived in Pinellas for 42 years. He is married to Lee Ellen Hooper. He has four children – Brian, age 46, Ann, 45, Jennifer, 37 and Sara, 33.
Hooper served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2006 to 2014. He worked as a firefighter in Statesville, North Carolina from 1968 to 1972. He was a firefighter, paramedic and fire lieutenant for Clearwater Fire and Rescue from 1972 to 1996. He worked for Partner Consus Group LLC, in government relations consulting, from 2001 to 2014.
He is a graduate of Statesville North Carolina High School and studied fire science and emergency medicine at St. Pete Junior College.
Hooper served on the Pinellas County Charter Review Committee in 2010 and was chairman of the Pinellas Fire and EMS Task Force in 2004. He served on the Clearwater Community Development Board from 2001 to 2004 and Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in 2005. He participated in Leadership Pinellas in 1997-1998 and served on the Long Center Foundation Board of Directors and as a trustee from 1997 to 2000.
Roche: “There are plenty of folks interested in having a job in public office and playing the game of politics. I, like those who honored me with this seat in 2010, believe strongly that what we need on our Board is someone focused on doing the job; someone who leaves the politics to the professional politicians; someone who is focused on the many challenges we face, and who seeks to help us meet those challenges and reach our goals while minimizing the impacts on an already stressed taxpayer base. I do not expect everyone to agree with all of my votes and positions, but I will remain open-minded at all times and you will always know exactly where I stand. I have and will continue to stand by my pledge to tell you the truth, even when it hurts.
“Additionally, I am firmly committed to continuing my pledge of public service to our county, our citizens, and our future; to honor my Oath of Office taken in 2010, and to honor my pledge to adhere to the will of the voters on Term Limits and only seek two terms.”
Hooper: “Serving five years as a city commissioner and now completing eight years as a state legislator, I still believe in improving our county and cities. I am the candidate with the experience and contacts to ensure that Pinellas County will not be left out at the expense of other counties.”
What do you hope to accomplish?
Roche: “Assuring that we meet our goals while minimizing the impact on an already stressed taxpayer base, continued focus on fiscal responsibility, tax dollar accountability, economic development and job growth, improved Veteran Service Office, improved Animal Services, improved Park and Recreational services, a pragmatic redevelopment plan – and stabilizing our county government operations, taxation, and spending such that is runs more commensurate with our economic baseline.”
Hooper: “Make sure the right administrator and senior staff is in place. Grow our manufacturing base and try to prevent the demise of our many defense contractors and employers. Ensure our beaches remain world class and continue to draw tourists from around the world. Help retain the Rays. Resolve the fire and EMS funding formula. Continue working to attract insurers to write flood policies in this county in lieu of National Flood Insurance Program. Help foster better cooperation between our cities and the county.”
After hiring two consultants, Pinellas County does not seem any closer to solving the problem with funding for EMS. In your opinion, what should be done?
Roche: “I am encouraged by the recent steps taken to curb the ongoing divide and avoid litigation. However positive the recent accomplishments have been, we still have a long-term financial sustainability challenge to address. I believe the following three issues must be part of the discussion if we are to truly solve this challenge and thus stabilize the rate of growth in cost projections:
“• Consolidation – not department consolidation, but rather the bureaucratic and governance consolidation of 18 separate districts (19 including Suncoast), into either 3 or 4 countywide districts such as: the North, Mid, South, and Barrier Island districts, or just the North Mid, and South Countywide Districts.
“• Fire Transport – the Districts/Departments must come to a unified decision on fire transport; either all-in or not. We cannot sustain partitioning of a countywide system when it comes to fire transport. The current system we have now works well, and fire transport also works well. A decision has to be made so we can proceed from there with a unified and mutually agreed upon approach.
“• Parity in the pay system – I believe we need to work with the various unions to bring about a countywide standard in pay structures. We can grandfather pay existing structures as not to cause upheaval in the system, and to honor existing agreements – then established a mutually agreed upon countywide standard going forward.”
Hooper: “There is a solution to implement a hybrid system that allows for departments with certified transport vehicles to use those for that purpose and position the private sector ambulances in fire stations throughout the county. Response times are good and the county still performs the billing and collection functions.”
Pinellas County transit needs – is Greenlight the right solution? Please qualify your answer.
Roche: “I do not support the Greenlight Pinellas Plan. If it should pass in November, I will do my level best to assure we can achieve our goal while minimizing the impact on, and liability of, an already stressed taxpayer base here in Pinellas.
“Alternatively, as you know, for the past decade, before the honor of being elected in 2010 – as a member of PSTA and vice chairman of PSTA’s Finance Committee, as a member of the County Commission, and from the first ever meeting with the (Tampa Bay) Times editors – I have and continue to advocate for and support the need for an improved mass transit busing system in Pinellas. A system based on a functional frequency and a pragmatic grid operation that features larger buses running along the major north, south, east and west corridors of Pinellas – with smaller feeder busses feeding the main lines – thus allowing for the evolution of the concept of using mass transit as a transportation alternative within a county that is roughly 275 square miles of built-out urban sprawl that requires complete flexibility, independence, and freedom of movement as we go about or day-to-day lives.
“This could have been implemented 10-years ago and should have been implemented 10-years ago; it can be implemented today and should be implemented today. And it can be accomplished within the constructs of the Special Act governing the creation of, existence of, and current taxing authority of PSTA and its’ current budget.”
Hooper: “No. We do not need to be the highest sales tax rated county in the state. I prefer to change the language of the current “Penny for Pinellas” sales tax to use some or all of that funding for any necessary transportation related improvements.”
Land in Pasco County – should it be sold or not and why.
Roche: “No; the land should not be sold. The 12,500 acres of land that make up the Cross Bar and Al Bar ranch are owned by Pinellas County residents, and I firmly believe that it is our residents who should be making the decision whether or not to sell this important land and its associated resource.
“I’ve asked for this important issue to be placed on this November’s General Election ballot so that our citizens can decide on what is to be done with our land and our drinking water resource.
I believe that it is important that Pinellas County retain this option as well for our county and the cities within Pinellas that depend on us for their drinking water.
“The regional supplier, Tampa Bay Water, may be in existence for another 50, 100, or even 200 years. However, on the 201st year, if they are not, our county must have an option for its drinking water.
“The Floridan Aquifer has approximately 200-plus billion gallons of fresh, clean drinking water running through it every day. As a state, Florida consumes only about 10 billion gallons a day of that water. Florida does not have a drinking water resource availability problem; what we have is a drinking water resource management challenge. And I believe that selling away our county’s future options for drinking water independence and self-reliance is not a responsible approach to that challenge. Simply put; this issue is purely and wholly about our county’s ability to remain independent and self-reliant, now and for generations to come.”
Hooper: “I need more information. My understanding is that we do not now own the wells on the property. They belong to Tampa Bay Water.”
Economic development – is Pinellas headed in the right direction?
Roche: “We are now, yes. Returning economic development and job creation to our top priority is also paramount to our future success. The County Commission should take a more proactive approach by leading an effort for a more holistic, consolidated, and inclusive countywide economic development strategy that incorporates leaders within the county, the municipalities, the various economic development and chamber of commerce groups, workforce management and education industries, et al. I have also focused and worked hard on this goal since first elected in 2010, and plan to continue my diligence in this area in my second term.
“I support our current application of the QTI (Qualified Targeted Industry) program. I also support the proposed new incentive program set for a referendum vote in the August Primary, which in short, incentivizes investment and business growth by not increasing taxation based on that growth (both property and tangible tax). I’ve also presented a concept for consideration titled “Clean Canvass Initiative” (CCI).
“We’ve seen a challenge in the area of property sales for the purpose on industrial and economic growth, in-part due to the condition of the property and/or facilities and buildings on said property. The CCI concept presents and incentive of raising/clearing these properties of old, dilapidated, outdated or unusable structures, thus creating a “clean canvass” for a potential investor to better envision their move or investment. The CCI proposal also provides for a self-funding mechanism that incorporates the growing materials recovery industry, such as metals and clean concrete recovery and reuse. We could actually bid-out the raising of these properties to the recovery industry, and use the proceeds to help fund the program.”
Hooper: “We are not trying hard enough to get to the right direction. We must increase our efforts to attract and retain employers.”
Homelessness and poverty – What is the best way to manage these issues?
Roche: “I support a countywide holistic approach with the consolidation of resources and funding dedicated to addressing this on-going challenge under the management, guidance, and accountability of a single entity (HLB). Our homelessness challenge is neither reducing nor improving here in Pinellas. Our homeless counts have not gone down, have stagnated, and in some cases increased. This I believe is due to either one of or in part all three of the following that must be addressed:
“• Our current programs and structure are/is not as effective as we should expect, and they need to be reviewed in order to reallocate our resources and funds to those programs that are most effective. We are in our third year of waiting on an accountability and fiscal report from the HLB. Once that report is in hand and given careful consideration, we can proceed to a more effective solution to this challenge.
“• Our economy is not at all recovered or at least is still quite fragile, as the homeless counts have not subsided thus indicating that for every person who climbs out of homelessness, at least another falls into it.
“• We’ve become a homeless destination. As attested to, across the street from our Florida Department of Health’s St. Pete office is a Greyhound Bus Depot. Homeless folks arrive by bus on a near daily basis, cross the street to our FHD office, and get in line for needed services.”
Hooper: “The current programs available are the best ways to manage these programs. Fair funding is necessary between the county and cities.”
Some believe that government’s role should be to provide only life and death necessities while others believe government should provide amenities that enhance quality of life. What’s your opinion?
Roche: I believe our County Commission’s core responsibility is to fully fund and operate the mandates as decreed by our citizens in our County Charter such as public safety, public water & sewer, public infrastructure, public parks system, et al. Once these obligations have been honored, we should certainly look to enhance and/or expand these services. As a side note, our most recent scientific citizen’s survey shows that a strong majority of our citizens (near 80%) say that we meet, and in some cases exceed their expectations on service delivery. However, we must be careful not to fall into a mode of seeking to improve ones’ quality of poverty, rather than improve their quality of life. Expanding educational and economic opportunity efforts and collaborations should be our focus.
“Over-extending our offerings and programs must be approached with a cautions and thoughtful consideration. As we’ve learned from the “bubble crash”, overextending when revenues are growing, only to be followed by severe cuts when revenues decline, is not the best management practice of our tax dollar resources.”
Hooper: “There always has to be a balance of programs to the citizens. But when times are tough, prioritization of essential services takes a more important effort. Public safety is always priority No. 1.
In your opinion, what is the No. 1 problem the commission will face in the near future and what should be done about it.
Roche: “Balance: As many of the important challenges we face today here in Pinellas are interconnected in some way or another, it’s difficult to single out specific challenge as being the most important. That said; our county government operations have been in a state of near constant turmoil since the bubble crash of 2009/10. Stabilizing our county’s budget, spending, taxation, and organizational operations is paramount. I have stayed focused and worked hard on this goal since first elected in 2010, and I will continue my diligence in this area in my second term.
“Economic: Additionally, returning economic development and job creation to our top priority is also paramount to our future success. The County Commission should take a more proactive approach by leading an effort for a more holistic, consolidated, and inclusive countywide economic development strategy that incorporates leaders within the county, the municipalities, the various economic development and chamber of commerce groups, workforce management and education industries, et al. I have also focused and worked hard on this goal since first elected in 2010, and plan to continue my diligence in this area in my second term.”
Hooper: “Retaining and replacing defense contractor employers. After the death of Congressman Young, as these defense contracts expire, new contracts will disappear in Pinellas. We must fill this void with new high tech manufacturing jobs to prevent the loss of too many jobs now in place.”
What makes you the best candidate?
Roche: “Simply put - I leave the politics to the professional politicians; Lord knows there are plenty to choose from. Instead, I remain focused on doing the job our taxpayers and citizens elected, expect, and pay me to do. If our citizens want to return to the days of the status quo, I am not the man for that job. However, if our citizens want someone on the job, doing the job, focused on a trust-but-verify approach to be certain our tax dollars are spent wisely; I am the man for the job. It’s not easy to be sure, but I’m honored and privileged to do it. And I’d be equally honored and privileged to continue doing the job for another term if our citizens will have me.”
Hooper: “I have the experience and contacts with all state agencies to work to make Pinellas the best county in Florida. I also believe I can achieve consensus among the commission in a better way than is in place now.”