TARPON SPRINGS – About 40 people turned out for the first Tarpon Springs City Commission debate for the March election, hosted by the League of Women Voters of North Pinellas on Jan. 14.
Joe Muzio, Rea Sieber and Chris Hrabovsky, the three candidates for Seat 2 vacated by Vice Mayor Susan Slattery after reaching her two-term limit, were each given two minutes for an opening statement, one minute to answer each question (collected from the audience before the debate) and one minute for a closing statement.
Joe Muzio, a 27-year resident of Tarpon Springs began his opening statement by talking about his work in the community over the years as a Little League coach, volunteer at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital and former director of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce. He also laid out his four goals as City Commissioner: maintain a good quality of life in Tarpon Springs, establish a plan for the future, work with the business community and listen to all pros and cons throughout the city.
Rea Sieber, president of the Tarpon Springs Merchants Association owner of three stores along the sponge docks, said her experience as a counselor at the Hillsborough Community College and Tarpon Springs High School provides her with the skills to listen to and work with all residents.
Chris Hrabovsky talked about how he’s spent eight years standing up for the citizens of Tarpon Springs by speaking out at nearly every City Commission meeting, including insisting that people being talked about during agenda items be notified before the meeting. Hrabovsky also laid out goals to reduce electric bills by demanding money back from Duke Energy, help people avoid foreclosure and transport elderly residents around town.
The three candidates all agreed on various issues brought up, including the increased tourism that will likely come with the sponge dock reconstruction project and the need to bring new businesses to the downtown area. However, varying responses came when Moderator Judy McSwine asked about the biggest issue facing Tarpon Springs.
Sieber and Muzio argued that economic development is needed to continue increasing the tourism and population in Tarpon Springs, while Hrabovsky voiced his concerns over the pending flood insurance rate hikes.
McSwine also asked about what the candidates would like to see done with the Walmart property on U.S. 19, a highly contested area for nearly a decade.
Hrabovsky said he has been in talks with the Trust for Public Land about turning the 74-acre property into a park and preserving the land.
Muzio said that he would first look into changing the zoning of the property and then encourage retail stores to take over the area.
Sieber said she would want to turn the property into either a park or a residential property.
For the final question of the night, McSwine asked the three candidates what made them stand out from their competition.
Hrabovsky said his passion for the city and eight years of experience with the Commission make him a valuable candidate.
“If you elect me your Commissioner, you can call me anytime, any question that you have,” he said, giving out his personal phone number. “If I can help, I certainly will. And if I find myself unable to help, I will help you find someone that can help you.”
For Muzio, his greatest asset is his time spent in Tarpon and the changes he’s seen over the years.
“Everything that I do will be in the best interest of this city,” he said. “I believe the experience and abilities that I bring forth include my flexibility with having some logic and looking at things objectively.”
Sieber followed by saying that her diverse background and total involvement in Tarpon Springs will help her become a successful Commissioner if elected.
“I feel that I’ve already been an involved person and want to continue that involvement and work together with everyone,” she said. “I want to listen to your needs and your concerns.”
In his closing statement, Hrabovsky reiterated his experience working with the City Commission and his pledge to make good on his promises.
Sieber expressed her goal to bring her energy and drive to the City Commission and to work together with Tarpon residents.
And in the last response of the night, Muzio told the audience that his passion exceeds anything he could say to them, and asked voters to give him the opportunity to prove just that.
The full video of the debate can be seen on the Tarpon Springs City Hall’s account on YouTube.
The next City Commission debate will be on Feb. 10 at the Tarpon Springs Community Center, 400 S. Walton Ave., hosted by The Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club. The debate will be an open forum with questions drawn from the audience and will begin at 7:30 p.m.
Correction: Rea Sieber was a counselor at Hillsborough Community College.