Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy, left, and Terry Hamilton-Wollin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Serving on a City Commission is time-consuming enough for most people, but two Indian Rocks Beach commissioners have decided there is more to do and have taken on positions that they hope will help their community and those around it in even bigger ways.
Terry Hamilton-Wollin has just become the vice president of the Barrier Island Government Council, or Big-C as it is informally known. Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy has been selected to represent all the beach communities on the newly formed Metropolitan Planning Council, an amalgamation of the old MPO and the Pinellas Planning Council.
Hamilton-Wollin says the Big-C exists to give the beach communities a voice, a much needed voice.
“Almost all of the tourism money in Pinellas County comes through the Barrier Islands,” she said. “Our needs here on the beach are different than those in Pinellas Park. Before the Big-C was formed we didn’t have much of a voice and weren’t getting enough of that money back.”
Since the inception of the Big-C, Hamilton-Wollin said it has become a powerful organization.
“We have gotten many millions of dollars for Gulf Boulevard beautification for example,” she said. “Powerful people from all over the county come to our meetings because they want to know what we are doing.”
Kennedy said her appointment to the MPO is important because up until now the MPO did not have a beach representative.
“Why that was I don’t know,” she said. “But the exciting thing now is that we do have a representative, and it means we have direct membership so that if a big issue comes up we don’t have to wait to take action.”
Kennedy said before she got on the board if issues came up that affected the beach communities, the mayors of those communities would have to get together and make a representation to the MPO. She said it was a long and unsatisfactory process.
Transportation the issue
Although serving on boards of organizations that are quite different, both women agree the issue that will affect the beach communities and all of Pinellas County in the months ahead, is transportation.
Both say the November referendum on adding a 1 percent sales tax to support public transportation is critical for the future of the county. Both agree with the proposed tax increase for what is known as Greenlight Pinellas. The proposal, if passed, is expected to fund a major increase in bus frequency and, eventually, a light rail system throughout the county.
“We missed an opportunity 25 or 30 years ago,” said Hamilton-Wollin. “We don’t dare miss it again; we have to get into the real world here.”
Hamilton-Wollin said the voters in Pinellas County turned down a significant funding increase for public transportation back then and to her it was shortsighted.
“Major metro areas all over the country began to realize that mass transit had to happen; people had to be moved and we ignored it,” she said. “Now we have an opportunity to do something significant and bring us into the next century and we’d better not lose it again.”
Kennedy feels just as strongly.
“Integrating the transportation issue as a whole in Pinellas County is huge right now,” she said. “We have to blend land use with transportation. We’re going from a spoke and hub system to a grid system; we’re going to increase the frequency of buses so citizens will be able to use the same buses with fewer transfers and less travel time.”
Kennedy said it is time to give Pinellas residents a real choice in transportation.
“You can leave your car at home and take the bus; it is a whole new mentality,” she said. “Driving our car is easy but sooner or later we have to think financial. The buses are beautiful, they are awesome. We have to change the mindset, and there will be a great saving if that happens.”
Kennedy said the other big issue facing the county is economic development and how land use plays into that.
“Mixed-use is important, I have a mixed-use property,” she said. “It is an old concept and I’ve lived it for 18 years. It is an issue that comes up frequently in the county.”
Hamilton-Wollin agrees that economic development is a critical issue and things are getting better, slowly.
“I think it is hard to ignore the data showing job growth is going in the right direction,” she said. “We have to remember however we suffered a tremendous setback and we’re not going to recover today or tomorrow.”
One thing that would help she says is an increase in the minimum wage.
“An increase would help bring people out of poverty,” she said. “Everything is inter-related, we have to keep the momentum, but it won’t be soon.”
Hamilton-Wollin said all in all she sees a bright future for Pinellas County and it hinges on the county’s two largest cities.
“I’m impressed with the mayors of St. Petersburg and Clearwater,” she said. “Both men are savvy and have an idea how things should go. St. Pete is like a house afire and Clearwater is steady with tourists. We have a bright future with people all over the county who are looking ahead, but those two are the stars.”