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Burke to fill empty council seat
Johnson’s resignation creates a long-awaited opportunity
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Chris Burke
SEMINOLE – City leaders set the stage Nov. 8 to name Chris Burke as an interim Seminole City Councilor who will finish the term of Leslie Waters on the City Council.

Burke was to be officially nominated and approved at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting. He will complete the term of Waters, which runs through November 2015.

Waters, who served as the city’s vice mayor, moved into the mayor’s seat Nov. 2 when former Mayor Jimmy Johnson resigned due to health reasons. Waters will seek re-election as mayor in March.

Under state law, the city has until Dec. 3 to fill Waters’ vacant seat.

Because Burke finished as runner-up in the last three city elections, councilors felt he was best suited to fill the seat.

“I personally believe we have a good candidate from the last election by the name of Chris Burke,” said Councilor Bob Matthews. “He’s been interested, he’s run three times and wasn’t too far behind in votes in the last election. My recommendation would be to pick the highest vote getter from the previous elections.”

Last March, Burke finished third among five candidates seeking two Council seats. In 2011, he was third out of four candidates seeking two seats and in 2010 he was third out of seven candidates seeking two Council seats.

At the urging of Councilor John Counts, city leaders also agreed to begin discussion on a permanent process to find City Council replacements.

In the past, the city has done it in different ways. But due in part to the short 30-day deadline, councilors decided the best decision was to appoint an interim councilor as soon as possible.

“Every time this happens we go back and forth. Let’s go top vote getter. Let’s go appointment,” said Counts. “My recommendation is let’s just do an appointment process where we interview people and just make it a permanent type basis. I agree Mr. Burke would probably be an excellent candidate to review but I think it would be our opportunity going forward that we just do it as an appointment process where we discuss the merits of each person.”

Waters cautioned Counts on his suggestion, noting the issue with administrative review that it might cause.

“That would probably draw quite a few applicants, of which we would have to review all the applications,” said Waters. “It could be anywhere from two or three to 40. So you have to keep that in mind for that manner of selection.”

“I think for this option now, Councilor Matthews’ suggestion (of Burke) is good,” Counts later said. “But we need to consider a more consistent policy in place for future decisions.”

That will be the topic of a future city workshop, City Manager Frank Edmunds said.

Burke, 48, is a 33-year Seminole resident. He and his wife Maureen have two teenage daughters and attend St. Jerome Catholic Church.

Burke is employed as a sergeant with the Largo Police Department and is a coach of the Seminole under-16 girls soccer team.

He is a past president of the Quail Ridge Homeowners Association and past chairman of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic School board.

Burke is a native of Hopkinton, Mass. He and his family moved to Pinellas County in 1979 where he graduated from Seminole High School in 1982.

He is a decorated U.S. Army veteran and Gulf War veteran and was nominated for the Bronze Star during the first Gulf War.

Burke started with the city of Largo in 1989 as a police dispatcher and later as a dispatch supervisor.

He graduated magna cum laude from both St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history.
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