Tom Rask is challenging incumbent John Morroni in the Aug. 26 universal primary, which will decide the winner of the District 6 County Commission seat.
Republicans and Democrats who live in the district can vote in this election.
District 6 stretches from east to west and along the beach and includes portions of Largo, St. Petersburg, Seminole and Pinellas Park, as well as St. Pete Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, Redington Sores, Madeira Beach and Treasure Island.
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
Morroni, 59, resides in Treasure Island. He has lived in the county for 34 years. He is married to Ellen and has one son, Michael, age 23. He has served on the county commission since 2000 and served as a state representative from 1992 to 2000. He worked previously as a Realtor and in the banking industry.
He graduated from Loyola University with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1977. His community service includes his service on the county commission, including two stints are chair, 2005 and 2012. He was elected chairman of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation from 1993-1994. He spent two terms as state representative.
Rask, 50, lives in Seminole. He has lived in the county for 24 years. He is married to Jennifer and they have two children, Erik, 14, and Isabel, 12. He owns Logical Sites Inc. and has been an investor into several start-up companies.
He has a master of science in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor of science in materials science from Carnegie-Mellon University. Under the area for community service, Rask wrote, “I have chosen to work in my own ways, not through groups.” He lists several areas where he has been active, including a campaign to defeat the Greenlight Pinellas plan and the proposed sale of water well fields in Pasco County. He is working with other supports to free a Pinellas County man, Michael Morgan, now serving life in prison for a crime many, including Rask, do not believe he committed. Rask said he also assists candidates running for office and has personally provided free housing, interest-free loans, resume assistance and other help to those in need since 2008.
Morroni: “I am running to protect our water resources, create a more efficient government, implement responsible transportation improvements, to preserve our environment and shoreline, and work to create sustainable jobs.”
Rask: “Because we no longer have government for the people, we have government for special interests. The rot in Washington has reached Pinellas County. My opponent's support of Greenlight Pinellas is evidence of exactly that. Our citizens deserve better.”
What do you hope to accomplish?
Morroni: “I want to see Pinellas County continue to grow jobs, protect our residents, including veterans and seniors, protect our environment, and run an efficient county government.”
Rask: “I will continue to oppose bad policy proposals, and put forth good policy proposals instead. Also, I will survey voters in my district at my own expense to find out what their concerns and views are.”
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?
Morroni: “We are moving forward with the agreements, and the city of St. Petersburg has already signed on, this is a work in progress and we must continue to work with our city leaders and fire districts in Pinellas County. We must continue to watch our taxpayer dollars and millage rates to ensure responsible spending.”
Rask: “For starters, I hope that the county under the new administrator will be more thoughtful in its negotiations. A high-level county employee (Bruce Moeller) was sent out to execute a strategy that I think only increased suspicion among stakeholders, and weakened the county´s negotiating position.
Based on what I know, I am for fire transport. We have a good system, but there is definitely room for cost savings and/or efficiency improvements. I know this because there are two fire stations closed to my house and the county said that one could be closed without impacting public safety. The specifics of how we get there is a matter of negotiation.”
Pinellas County transit needs – is Greenlight the right solution? Please qualify your answer.
Morroni: “Yes. I supported putting the referendum on the ballot at the commission meeting last year. I now sit on the PSTA Board of Directors and like the bus route improvement segments. However, I do have concerns over the Penny for Pinellas program coming up in three years should this pass.”
Rask: “Of course we need public transportation (transit) to serve those who either can't afford personal transportation, or can't use it due to medical conditions or other good reasons. However, we don't need more transit, and we especially don't need light rail. There is no need or demand for more transit.
“We also don't have the population density for light rail to work, we don't have population growth and we have a transportation revolution coming in the form of self-driving vehicles. In the very near future, your transit could be a self-driving vehicle. So Greenlight Pinellas is definitely not a forward-looking solution. PSTA is a poorly run and dysfunctional organization that uses tax dollars to advocate for more tax dollars. We need to fix it first before even talking about more taxes for PSTA.
“Greenlight Pinellas will especially hurt low income seniors and disabled veterans, who currently pay little or no tax to PSTA through their property tax bill because of special exemptions they receive. They will get no such exemptions on their sales tax. I have spent considerable time on making a website on this topic, see www.greenlightpinellasfacts.com (particularly the “News & Links” section).”
Land in Pasco County – should it be sold or not and why.
Morroni: “I am extremely concerned about our water resources and I am 100 percent against selling the land at Cross Bar / El Bar Ranch. The reason is because we have no idea what the future holds if we sell the land back to Pasco County.”
Rask: “This tract of land, which is slightly larger than the city of Largo, should absolutely not be sold. While these well fields don't cover all of our water needs, they provide more than enough drinking water. We need to have drinking water independence. Tampa Bay Water may or may not continue beyond its dissolution date of 2038, and in any event, we weaken our negotiating position by not retaining water independence. As just one example: Dunedin has chosen to retain water independence.
“Having lived under severe water shortage situations, I know what deprivations it brings. Even worse, if you get to the point where you have to truck in water, it gets very, very expensive.
“As mentioned above, one of my civic activities was a large email campaign to voters on this topic.
Over 200 citizens wrote or called in expressing opposition to the sale of the land as a result of my email campaign, and only a few expressed support for selling the land.
“While New York City continually increases their water rights through land purchases, Pinellas County Commissioners seek to sell our well fields.”
Economic development – is Pinellas headed in the right direction?
Morroni: “Yes, we are celebrating record tourism, our unemployment is lower than parts of Florida, and our property values are rising. However, we have more work to do.”
Rask: “No. PCED (Pinellas County Economic Development) has become an organization that self-promotes, is deaf to the opinion of most businesses and spends a lot of time supporting bad policy initiatives like Greenlight Pinellas.”
Homelessness and poverty – What is the best way to manage these issues?
Morroni: “Education and job search training. Access to job search tools and training such as technical training, resume writing, and career search support centers are key. Those who have fallen through the cracks should be provided programs through state and local funding that allow them to become productive citizens.”
Rask: “As you know, the County Health & Human Services Director was recently asked to resign. I would have to see what the next director proposes, as well as listen to PCSO (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office) and their views on the matter.
“We need statewide (perhaps nationwide) changes in how we handle mentally ill people, as well as recognition that we have different classes of homeless people. We have the mentally ill who are homeless, homeless working families, substance abusers, seasonal visitors who are homeless, etc. etc.
As Commissioner Roche has pointed out: Pinellas County has become a ‘homeless destination’... much like San Francisco in the ‘other bay area,’ I hasten to add.”
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?
Morroni: “Government should stay out of people’s lives as much as possible. Where needed, there is nothing wrong with government providing safe nets for seniors, veterans and children in need.
Rask: “It depends on what you mean by ‘enhanced quality of life.’ Does that mean a reinvigorating and pleasant city park that all can use, a Fourth of July Parade ... or does it mean free chocolate for everyone?
“Also, I am not aware that serious people have argued that government's role is “to provide only life and death necessities.” For example, roads and libraries are not life and death necessities, but government should be responsible for providing both.
“Most agree that being an able-bodied adult means providing for yourself. If everyone needs a handout, who is going to provide that handout? What if those providing don't want to provide the handout, and would rather receive one instead? We should take care that we do not create a situation where too many people want to ride the wagon and no wants to pull the wagon.”
In your opinion, what is the No. 1 problem the commission will face in the near future and what should be done about it.
Morroni: “We are currently going through the process of picking a new county administrator who will work with us in a cohesive manner, who gets out into the community, and who serves Pinellas County.
Rask: “The political process in our country has been taken over by special interests. Most of our county commissioners no longer serve the people, they serve special interests. Meaningful progress cannot be made on any public policy issues unless this issue is addressed first, and history shows us that change always begins at the local level.”
What makes you the best candidate?
Morroni: “I am proud and honored to have a wide coalition of support of more than 70 elected officials from all parties, our Pinellas Firefighters, and the Fraternal Order of Police. Public safety is priority of mine and always has been. We must work with our local municipal leaders to ensure all residents of Pinellas County are protected. Because of experience, thorough understanding of the issues that face Pinellas and my record of service, I am best prepared to lead on the County Commission.”
Rask: “My solid professional and educational background coupled with my civic engagement on public policy issues is what makes me the best candidate. I will not go along to get along, I will ask tough questions.
“Furthermore, my opponent only seems to have two suggestions: service cuts or higher taxes. My opponent John Morroni consistently votes for higher government spending and has trampled on the clearly expressed will of the people for eight-year term limits.
“In a 1996 referendum, 72 percent of Pinellas County voters voted in favor of eight-year term limits for county commissioners. Since that time, our county commission has spent your tax dollars fighting term limits in court. However, no matter what victories they achieve in court, they can never escape the clearly expressed will of the people as they expressed it in the 1996 referendum. Respect for the rule of law begins with putting the term limits into the county charter. So let´s do that.”