CLEARWATER — As the race for mayor and two City Council seats picks up steam, several local organizations have announced candidate forums.
Forums come in various shapes and sizes. The Clearwater Neighborhoods Association, for instance, breaks its forums into three evenings. The audience can submit questions for candidate responses.
“The forums will help voters understand the positions of the various candidates seeking election to the City Council,” said Carl Schrader, the coalition’s incoming president. In most cases, candidates take questions from the audience and are given equal time to answer.
The forums and participants are:
• Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. at Morningside Recreation Center, 2400 Harn Blvd.: Seat 2 candidates Mike Mannino, Bruce Rector, Lina Teixeira and Seat 3 candidates Dr. Bob Cundiff and Bud Elias.
• Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 407 S. Saturn Ave.: Seat 2 candidates Mark Bunker and Eliseo Santana and Seat 3 candidates Kathleen Beckman and Scott Thomas.
• Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 407 S. Saturn Ave.: Seat 1 (Mayoral) candidates Elizabeth “Sea Turtle” Drayer, Frank Hibbard, Bill Jonson, and Morton Darrell Myers.
The city of Clearwater also will host forums on two nights in the City Council chambers in the Main Library, at 100 Osceola Ave. A reception at 6 p.m. will allow residents to meet the candidates before they take the stage. The forum will be moderated by Al Ruechel, the former senior anchor for Bay News 9. Those forums and participants are:
• Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.: Seat 1 (Mayoral) candidates Drayer, Hibbard, Jonson, and Myers.
• Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.: Seat 2 candidates Bunker, Mannino, Rector, Santana and Teixeira, as well as Seat 3 candidates Beckman, Cundiff, Elias, and Thomas.
Finally, the Clearwater Upper Pinellas County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will follow decades of tradition by holding its forum for citywide candidates on Jan. 6. The forum, which begins at 7 p.m., is at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center at 1201 Douglas Ave.
“The candidates will answer written questions from the public during this moderated event and be allowed equal time to answer questions,” said branch president Zebbie D. Atkinson IV. “The purpose of the candidate forum is to give members of the branch and residents of the community an opportunity to hear candidates discuss the issues of importance to them in this election.”
The event is free and open to the public.
Clearwater residents vote for the city offices on March 17, which is Presidential Primary Day in Florida. All seats are voted at-large.
Charter amendments on the ballot
The city will also have several amendments on the ballot for voters to consider.
The council approved the amendments, which were recommended by the city’s Charter Review Committee, at its Dec. 19 meeting.
First, the Charter Review Committee — which gathers once every five years to consider changes to the city’s charter — suggests changing that to meeting every eight years.
A second change to the city charter would ban present and former council members from holding any “compensated appointive” (i.e.; paying) city office or job until two years after their term ends.
A third ballot measure would let the city donate or sell below market rate up to five acres of property. The land must be for workforce housing and a public hearing must be held. The change would also allow the donation or sale of uneconomic remainders of adjacent property after a public hearing.
Another change would provide a new timetable for the city manager’s “state of the city” annual report on Clearwater’s financial and administrative activities. Horne has been giving his report before Sept. 30, while the fiscal year was still in effect. Members of the charter review committee felt it was better for the city manager to give the speech at the council’s first meeting in November, after the fiscal year in the report ends.
Finally, voters will be asked to remove the Clearwater Marine Aquarium lease from the charter. The city bought the property from the aquarium in 2017 for $4.5 million. That was in the face of a $15 million offer from the Church of Scientology, which really wanted that land. Now, the city wants to include the 1.4-acre prime real estate in its Imagine Clearwater redesign of the downtown waterfront.