From left, Seminole City Council candidates Tom Christy, Thomas Barnhorn and Jim Quinn answer questions during a candidates forum Feb. 7 at City Hall.
SEMINOLE – Three of four candidates seeking two Seminole City Council seats addressed a variety of topics Feb. 7 during a candidates forum at City Hall.
Incumbents Thomas Barnhorn and Jim Quinn, along with challenger Tom Christy, answered questions from a small group of residents during a one-hour discussion moderated by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area. The fourth candidate, Matt Nilssen, was absent.
The city election is March 12 but many residents will be voting over the next four weeks with mail-in ballots.
One of the early questions posed to the candidates was what their first goal would be, if elected.
“I would say consensus building,” said Christy. “In city government, things move slowly so you have to have everybody on the same page. Also, listening to the needs of the folks, particularly on public safety.”
“I would want to continue what we have done,” said Barnhorn. “We’ve brought more amenities, year in and year out, to our residents, including safety. Part of that is done through the building of consensus.”
Barnhorn pointed to his contacts with other state and federal leaders, as well as his association with the Suncoast, Florida and National leagues of cities.
“I too would continue to do what we’ve been doing the last three years on the City Council,” said Quinn. “We’ve cut $900,000 from our 2013 city budget. We have not reduced any services.”
Quinn pointed to a list of things the city has accomplished or currently has in motion, such as the recent purchase of the Seminole Mall and the city’s purchase of the former Jesse’s Landing site for a city park and redevelopment of the former town hall at Seminole City Park, which will house the future home of the Seminole Historical Society.
Quinn noted that the City Council works very well together “and we wish to continue to do that.”
As in past years, the issue of the future of “downtown Seminole” and the Seminole Mall came up.
“Downtown Seminole has always been the Johnson Boulevard area. That’s how we’ve always looked at it,” said Barnhorn. “Right now, it is up in the air. As far as what the developers that purchased (the mall) have done, they haven’t brought us any plans specific. They are famous for building multi-use, which means businesses downstairs and residents upstairs. But they have not brought a plan to us.”
Quinn pointed out that the current owner of the mall, North American Development Group, recently allowed a six-month lease to a buffet restaurant on the southwest corner of the mall.
“We don’t have any definite plans yet. But we assume their plans are they want to start developing the property,” Quinn said.
“It seems like we’re headed in the right direction,” said Christy. “I think these new owners appear to be retail people. They appear to be good prospects and they appear they’re going to move forward.”
Candidates also were asked what the city’s budget priorities should be in the event of a continuing decline in revenue.
“We have to figure ways to cover less revenue coming in,” said Christy. “But if it ever came down to a choice between an increase in property tax and cutting something, I would be in favor of (an increase in) the property tax.”
“Budget priorities in the city should be for the safety and welfare of the residents,” said Barnhorn. “We have always worked for a little bit more for a little bit less. We don’t want to sacrifice amenities.”
Quinn pointed to the market values of homes being on the increase.
“I don’t think we’re going to be short-changed in our next budget session,” he said. “If there was a problem, the first thing I would like is for the city manager go to the department heads and start there. Tell them to make as much of a cut as possible without hurting your services.”
The candidates were asked for their thoughts on term limits and all agreed.
“I believe the voters already give us term limits. They vote,” said Barnhorn. “If you’re not doing your job as a city councilor, you will be voted out of office. Term limits have no place in local government.”
“I feel the same way as (Barnhorn),” said Quinn. “The voters decide who stays and who goes.”
“I’m not sure I can disagree with that simplistic approach,” said Christy. “The voters have always been there and have been able to move someone in or out of office. That’s the way the democratic process works.”
Christy said the topic of term limits came up during the most recent Charter Review Committee discussions but failed to move any further.
Another question dealt with the candidates’ qualifications to settle Seminole’s biggest issues.
“My background is in construction, in recycling waste to energy,” said Quinn. “I was (road) superintendent of a city of 44,000 residents in Connecticut. I was responsible for maintaining 140 miles of road, picking up trash and operating a landfill. Anything to do with roadwork, I have a background in.”
“My career up north was in the transportation industry,” Christy said. “I did serve on the Town Council in Tonawanda, N.Y., a community very similar to ours.”
“I have 30 years of management experience,” said Barnhorn. “Combine that with small businesses that I’ve owned. Plus, I’m a financial adviser. So I look at ways to take our dollars, stretching them and giving the city what they want. I also look at what the city needs, such as increasing the number of hours the library is open.”
When the candidates were asked to describe their leadership style, Christy said it was his ability to build a consensus “and get everybody on the same page.”
“My leadership style is doing things through example,” said Barnhorn. “It is giving credit to everybody sitting at the table for their own individual ideas and finding a way to have each of those individual ideas come together. Once they come together, then you have an item you can bring forth.”
Quinn said his leadership style is based upon common sense.
“I try to work with common sense with everything that comes before us. I try to work with people that are on the council with me and I think we do a great job. We don’t always agree on everything but when the votes are taken, we go by the majority vote.”
When asked about long-term goals, Quinn said he wanted to “continue doing what I’m doing.”
“I’d say live long and prosper,” said Christy. “Also (if elected), move toward things people want.”
“My biggest long-term goal is to continue to enjoy the warmth of the community we have here in Seminole,” said Barnhorn. “We take our grandchildren to the Pow Wow Festival and they enjoy it. We do different activities with our family members and friends. Everything else really doesn’t matter. What’s important is how we feel, the fact that we all love this city and we want to see it continue to prosper and maintain what it is now.”