INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - As the clock ticked toward noon on Jan. 11, it was becoming increasingly obvious that no one was going to step forward to challenge the three incumbent commissioners running for office in Indian Rocks Beach.
When the clock struck noon, Indian Rocks Beach City Clerk Deanne Bulino O’Reilly made the requisite telephone calls, sent out the necessary emails, declared that Commissioners Phil Hanna, Cookie Kennedy and Terry Hamilton-Wollin were re-elected unopposed to their seats, then went to lunch.
The deadline for candidates to qualify for the election on March 12 had passed. Others had taken out the necessary papers, but no one besides the incumbents returned them.
Hamilton-Wollin, 66, is completing her sixth year on the IRB Commission. The idea that she wasn’t going to run again never entered her head.
“I’m a public servant, born and bred,” she said. “My family has always been involved in government going back to the 1800s. We have always been told about good government and we have to step up and make it happen and we take it seriously in our family.”
Kennedy, 52, is also in her sixth year on the commission but with a slightly different career path. She was first elected in 1999 and served until 2002 when she resigned to run for state Senate seat. She didn’t win and didn’t get her seat on the commission back.
She was elected again in 2008 and again had to resign this past year when she decided to run for a state House seat. Again she didn’t win, but this time the commission voted to have her back. She said her duties on the Pinellas Planning Council have given her a new perspective on public life.
“I’m the beaches representative on the council,” she said. “I am dedicated to making sure the voice of the beach communities is heard. It has taught me to always keep an open mind because nobody has all the answers. People have thoughts and ideas that you don’t think of.”
Hanna, 62, has been on the commission for four years and agrees with Kennedy’s comments.
“What I found surprising is that I’d have my mind made up on something, then when I heard all the arguments and evidence nine times out of 10 I’d change my tune. You should not bring an agenda to this thing.”
All three returning commissioners recalled the state of the city a decade ago. At the time there was rising debt and a poorly run city. They said they are glad those days are behind but lament some of the tough decisions that had to be made to get their house in order. Now they say the future is the thing.
They all refer to the new boat docks, the city’s ongoing beautification projects and the improvements to the historical museum as special achievements. Now they are looking at ongoing infrastructure improvements.
“We’re improving the road system and the sidewalks, not to mention the garden,” said Hamilton-Wollin, referring to the new Community Garden about to be established in the Nature Preserve.
Kennedy, who operates a beauty salon in the city, looks to the future working with local entrepreneurs.
“We have to continue to help local business,” she said. “And we have to continue to keep renourishing our beach and keep generally improving our city for the future.”
Hanna said the future has actually been helped by the past.
“We haven’t raised the millage rate in five years and we’ve had no staff cuts,” he said. “We’ve achieved so much recently with no loss of service and no extra money. That is a good accomplishment.”
Of the three seats, which have been acclaimed, two of them are for a two-year term, the other for one year. Who gets the one-year term and having to run again in a year will be decided by the commission but it will likely be Kennedy.
She has volunteered to take that position in part because of the disruption she caused when she resigned to run for that House seat.
“Because I left and returned I will take that one year term,” she said. “If I have to run in an election next year it is not a problem, I like running.”
Because the incumbents have all been returned, it means there will not be a municipal election in the spring. No election means a saving of the $6,500 the city would have had to pay the county to run the election.
As for the future, two of the three returning commissioners say they will continue beyond the end of their new term. Hamilton-Wollin was clear with her intentions.
“If I’m breathing I will continue beyond the next two years,” she said. “Term limits? We have term limits; it is called the ballot box.”
Kennedy said much the same about her future.
“As long as the citizens want me I’ll be there,” she said.
Hanna was a little more ambivalent about his future.
“I have said I will stay as long as the people want me, but I may not after this,” he said. “It is hard to project that far out but so far I’m happy with what I’ve done and I hope the citizens are happy with me.”
The commissioners will be formally sworn in for their new terms on March 26.