From left, Eugene Hendry, Patti Johnson and Keith Sabiel are running for Seat 2 on the Pinellas Park Council during the March 11 municipal election.
PINELLAS PARK – The city of Pinellas Park will hold its City Council election Tuesday, March 11.
Three candidates are vying for Seat 2 on the council: newcomer Eugene Hendry, incumbent Councilor Patti Johnson and the city’s Public Utilities Director Keith Sabiel.
They’re facing off at a candidates’ forum at the Mainlands of Tamarac, 4275 Mainlands Blvd., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2 p.m. This event is open to the public. Refreshments will be served. Call 578-0644 for more information.
Incumbents Mayor Sandra Bradbury and Councilor Ed Taylor (Seat 1) were also up for reelection, but were unchallenged.
The last day to register to vote is Monday, Feb. 10. Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has set a tentative date of Feb. 7 to begin sending out mail ballots to domestic voters who have requested a ballot. The last date to request a mail ballot is 5 p.m. March 5. After that date, ballots can be picked up at an Elections Office through March 10.
Early voting begins Saturday, March 1 and continues through Sunday, March 9, in any of three Elections offices. Polls will be open on Election Day, Tuesday, March 11, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 464-6788 or visit www.votepinellas.com.
Originally from Pittston, Pa., Hendry relocated to Pinellas Park three years ago when his wife started a new job in the area.
“We went looking around and Pinellas Park looked the best out of the places we looked,” he said, which included Seminole and Largo. “Pinellas Park just seemed like the best fit for us.”
A firefighter and EMS worker in Pittston, who worked as a prison guard, Hendry has always had a passion for politics at a local level. He volunteered for a mayoral campaign as manager, and also served for the campaigns of then Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
“The reason I’m running is because I’ve been working on campaigns for 10 years,” Hendry said. “Now it’s my time to get out there. I have some good ideas for Pinellas Park.”
When he moved to Florida, he continued to work for Rick Santorum, this time for Santorum’s presidential bid. Hendry was hired as a special campaign manager, organizing grassroots volunteers and delivering yard signs, palm cards and bumper stickers to events throughout the state.
Hendry also worked for the city in the Parks Division for five months, from June 17, 2011 until Oct. 12, 2011, when he was discharged during his probationary period. He said he was wrongfully discharged after missing work due to illness, despite having a doctor’s note. City records don’t indicate why he was let go.
Since moving to Pinellas Park, he’s volunteered for the Red Cross and Meals on Wheels, as well as No Tax for Tracks.
“I’m 100 percent against that light rail only because I don’t think they should raise taxes to make it happen,” he said.
One of Hendry’s biggest concerns is “making sure that the taxpayers and the people of the community come first.”
He’d like to keep taxes low and keep the city’s budget down, he said, even if this means reviewing the budget department by department.
“I would like to go in and cut whatever we could,” he said. “We should be going in and looking at every department, that way we can lower taxes.”
His main concern is the Parks Division, which he says bids out work that could be done in-house.
“I think we should look into that better and see if we could do them ourselves instead of bidding them out to other towns and companies,” he said.
Hendry also said he’d like to attract more businesses to Pinellas Park .
“I think we should offer tax breaks to smaller businesses to bring them here,” he said. “I think if we cut taxes, we’ll get a lot more businesses to come in. it would help Pinellas Park in the long run and bring more money to the city.”
He’d also like to better utilize England Brothers Park, he said, by bringing more events into the community. Ideally, he’d like to see events organized there at least two weeks a month.
“Even something small,” he said, “like something for the kids, moon bounces, an art show. Something that gives the community something to do every weekend, so they know the tax dollars are going to help them.”
Hendry said he’d also like to focus on public safety and have the police department patrol high-crime areas hourly to send a message to criminals.
He’d also like to eventually see Pinellas Park operating its own EMS, rather than utilize the services offered by Sunstar Paramedics. This would result in “quicker response time and better care for patients,” he said.
“My big goal is to bring money back into the city,” he said. “Put taxpayers first; keep taxes low. That’s my main slogan.”
Incumbent Patti Johnson was first elected to City Council two years ago, after Sandra Bradbury left Seat 2 vacant when she was elected mayor.
Since then, Johnson has been devoted to the city and its residents, she said. And what she’s learned along the way excites her for what could come if she’s reelected.
“The citizens invested in me for two years to go to school and learn all about the city and how it works,” she said, “and I got a clear vision of where we can be and where we need to go.”
For 27 years, Johnson has lived in Pinellas Park, where she owns the Amber Glen Equestrian Center and Amber Glen Feed Depot.
An advocate for the elderly and the handicapped, she opened Freedom Village, a HUD-assisted housing development for those demographics, in 1982. She also managed similar housing for the city of St. Petersburg Housing Authority, and has worked with the AARP and National Caucus and Center for Black Aged to train seniors to manage their own apartment complexes and property matters.
She’s also always been involved in community organizations, she said. Over the year, the various groups she’s worked with include the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast Board of Directors, Pinellas Park Boys & Girls Club Unit Advisory Council, the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Pinellas Park Board of Adjustment, the Pinellas Park Code Enforcement Board and the Pinellas Park Police Department Volunteers Mounted United.
The natural evolution, she said, was for her to become further involved by running for council. She initially ran in 2007, but lost to current Vice Mayor Jerry Mullins. She ran again in 2012 and won.
As a council member, she represents the city on three committees: the Pinellas Park Medical District Board of Directors, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board of Directors and the Florida League of Cities Finance, Taxation and Personnel Committee.
It’s an exciting time to live in Pinellas Park, she said. And she hopes to be a part of its future.
“We’ve been doing great, but we’re just now breaking out of the recession and we have a bright future,” she said. “I want to see more business, more homes and more opportunities. I want to see us clean up even more than we already have. We’ve done a huge, huge job and gotten lots of compliments and we can do even more.”
Redevelopment needs to continue to be a focus of the council, she said. She hopes to expand the work it’s accomplished in the Community Redevelopment Area to other parts of the city. She says this will promote the creation of new businesses in other areas.
She’s also lauded the success of the Medical District. Another way to bring new businesses into the city, in addition to reducing taxes for businesses that have been here longer, is to create special districts catering to other industries, she said.
Johnson said the council also needs to think about state and federal issues that affect Pinellas Park, such as the threat of increasing flood insurance rates and bringing Internet sales taxes back into the city.
She’s also worried about potential cuts to state funding, and says council members need to work closely with local state legislators.
“The first thing we have to do to be able to sustain what we have is to make sure the state doesn’t cut us to pieces,” she said.
If that happens, it could force the city to increase taxes and cut services.
“We don’t want any more cuts,” she said. “We want to be able to move forward, with homeless programs, with our CRA.”
For this reason, she said, the council’s relationships with local state leaders is important, and over the past two years she’s worked to establish relationships with them.
Keith Sabiel has worked for the Public Utilities Department for the past 39 years – the last 14 of them as the division’s director.
So serving the city’s residents has always been at the forefront of his mind, he said. And as his June retirement approaches, he wants to ensure that he continues this service.
“For the last 20 years, I’ve always told people I’m going to become mayor of the city one day,” he said. “The best way to start is on City Council.”
He added, “I think that those five individuals [on the council] right now, I think they try to do the best that they can. I just think I can help them make our great city an even greater city.”
Originally from New Jersey, Sabiel moved to the area when he was 15 with his family and attended Dixie Hollins High School. He began working for the city in 1974, as soon as he graduated from high school, as a utilities worker, repairing water lines and operating meter tabs.
He worked his way up the ranks, taking over the Reclaimed Water Division and eventually as director of the entire department.
Married in 1977, with two kids, Sabiel has always been active in the community, especially when it comes to youth activities, such as the Pinellas Park Thunderbirds football league and Pinellas Park Nationals baseball.
He’s also been a member of Pinellas Park Church, where he currently serves as deacon, for 32 years. He’s joined the church on numerous missionary trips, including trips to Mexico to build houses for the poor and medical mission trips to Ghana.
Sabiel’s primary concern is cutting wasteful spending while improving city services.
“I hope to focus on looking through our budget and reducing budgetary costs without hurting customer service,” he said. “I think we should go through the budget and cut out the waste. There is waste in our budget. The city has done a fairly good job, but I think there’s more money out there that can come back.”
These cuts should happen “right from the first page of the budget, all the way through,” he said, and cover all departments in the city.
Community policing is another important topic, he said. He lauds the policing efforts in the city’s CRA.
“It’s working really well and we get a lot of compliments on it,” he said.
But he’d like to have these efforts expanded to other neighborhoods, and suggests that the police department reevaluate the entire city and “see which neighborhoods it would be helpful to have [community policing.]”
Sabiel would also like to see more community events, perhaps on a monthly basis, bringing together local businesses, churches and civic organization.
“I’d like to see if we can partner together to have more activities for the public to get to know one another, to see what’s going on in Pinellas Park,” he said.
Drawing new businesses to the city is also key to the city’s future success, he said.
“I think that we need to try to draw more business into Pinellas Park and work with existing businesses to see what their needs are and how we can help them,” he said.
He acknowledges the work the City Council has done with the CRA, purchasing buildings there and renting them out to small businesses.
“But I don’t know if that’s a position we want to be in, to be landlords,” he said.
He’d really like to see the council come up with a plan for the properties it’s purchased and any future properties it might add to its portfolio, he said.
“Show me something on paper rather than buy this, buy that piecemeal,” he said. “I’d just like to see a plan. What are they going to do? How are they going to tie it all together?”
He noted that the city’s downtown has shifted from the CRA, which is located along Park Boulevard around the 5600 block, to the east end of the city near Park Boulevard and U.S. 19. The council needs to determine what businesses would fit in best with the CRA’s new role.
“It’s no longer a downtown,” he said. “We want to make it a part of the city people want to come to. We need to figure out what’s best for the properties that we have there, what would fit in and what would be the cost.”
Sabiel hosts an open house at his home, 6095 90th Ave. N., every Thursday, 5 to 7 p.m. For more information, visit votesabiel.com.