SEMINOLE — Three candidates are running for two available Seminole City Council seats in the Nov. 3 election. Incumbents Roger Edelman and Jim Quinn are being challenged by Thomas Christy.
The seats are at-large, and the two top vote-getters will join the council.
Tampa Bay Newspapers recently asked the candidates about city, regional and national issues. First, we asked them to provide some basic information.
- Years in Seminole: 15
- Education: Degree in business management
- Professional experience: Transportation management
- Leadership experience: Seminole Charter Review Committee, vice chair, 2009; Sons of the American Legion Squadron 0252, officer; Knights of the Columbus Council 17942, officer; Seminole Gardens Building #21, past board member; previous city council experience in Tonawanda, New York.
- Community involvement: Usher at St. Jerome Catholic Church; Knights of Columbus Council 17942; Sons of the American Legion Squadron 0252.
- Years in Seminole: 35
- Education: University of Cincinnati
- Professional experience: Corporate executive for a Fortune 500 company for 27 years; president of the Greater Seminole Chamber of Commerce for eight years; started, built and sold a $2.5 million printing company in six years.
- Leadership experience: Past president of the Seminole Chamber of Commerce and the Seminole Lake HOA; president-elect of the Rotary Club of Seminole.
- Community involvement: I am or have been on the Board of Directors for PARC, Pinellas Village, The Rotary Club of Seminole, Heavendrop, American and Pinellas Marine Institutes, Seminole Lake Country Club, PDQ Seminole as well as past president of the Seminole Lake HOA and volunteer at Aldersgate food pantry.
- Years in Seminole: 16 years
- Education: Two years of community college and public works courses.
- Professional experience: Retired. Navy veteran and a former highway superintendent with the city of Enfield, Conn.
- Leadership experience: Nine years serving on the Seminole City Council.
- Community involvement: Founded the annual Shoe and Sock Drive for the Sheriff’s Youth Ranches, co-chaired the Concerned Citizens of Seminole Garden Apartments, serves as vice president of the Board of Directors of Interfaith Food Pantry, and is a member of the Florida League of Cities Energy & Natural Resources Committee and the Sheriff’s Advisory Board.
Why do you think you're the best candidate for Seminole City Council?
Tom Christy: Any city council candidate should have the energy and vigor to move our city forward. They should be engaged in the community and have some leadership ability. Should have vision and forward thinking. Ideally be employed, exercising the mind and body on a daily basis. Therefore, we believe that someone like myself at age 69, the youngest, healthiest candidate, and with the aforementioned qualities, is best able to lead our city going forward. Community involvement is essential, as noted above, this candidate has it.
Roger Edelman: I have the strongest business and leadership background of the other candidates, and as a current member of the city council and former vice mayor, I have worked with city staff and the members of the council to keep Seminole in a debt-free position. I have continually voted to keep our tax rate at the same level it has been for the past 14 years.
Jim Quinn: I have nine years of experience serving on the city council and have successfully dealt with the challenges and opportunities of our local government. During my service on city council, the city became debt-free and many parks and recreation projects are funded and underway. I also have a strong public works background, which includes road/street and sidewalk maintenance and resource recovery/recycling, which allows me to make excellent decisions on infrastructure needs.
What do you think is Seminole's biggest immediate challenge?
TC: Obviously, a study on how to establish our own police department, similar to our fire department. With crime trending upward in our community we can wait no longer to create a proactive police department that deters crime. With regular patrols. With local accountability. We can no longer afford to contract out this vital service. We can longer afford to pay for a reactive service that shows up only after the commission of crime. We have paid out nearly $20 million the past 10 or 11 years for a service that can best be accomplished with our own personnel.
RE: I think the biggest immediate challenges to the city will be to continue our work on controlling the virus, and to continue to identify and correct road and traffic issues. I feel we are doing an excellent job working with the county on the virus, and we have an aggressive five-year funding plan in place for substantial road, sidewalk, and drainage repair including tree restoration.
JQ: The biggest immediate challenge is related to COVID-19. In addressing this challenge, the council has supported following CDC guidelines, offered virtual meetings and have provided both recreation and library programs for citizens to participate in while at home. Our fire department staff also assisted skilled nursing facilities in providing transport prevention strategies. Also, I have personally distributed masks to senior citizens who were unable to travel to get a mask.
Thinking long-term, what do you think will be Seminole's three greatest issues over the next three years?
TC: Forward-thinking will be required. To establish our own city of Seminole police department, as mentioned above. A new, modern city hall, that can accommodate our growing citizenry. These two undertakings also foster community pride. The current building was not adequate to house a library and is woefully lacking as our community building. Since some fire services occupy part of the current building, perhaps when we have police services as well, it might become our public safety building. And a better annexation policy.
RE: The three biggest issues we will be facing over the next three years will be the renovation or rebuilding of the recreation center, the renovation of city hall and the addition of a new fire station in the Bay Pines area. We are currently reviewing plans now for the city hall renovation and will soon be working on plans for the recreation center and the proposed fire station.
JQ: First of all, the completion of Waterfront and Orange Blossom Parks. Another issue is the age and condition of the recreation center. The council has indicated the intention to use Penny 4 funding for this so city taxes will not have to be increased. Another issue is the repair/maintenance of streets, sidewalks and stormwater infrastructure. The council has adopted and funded the street repair/maintenance plan and is utilizing grants to start the stormwater work.
At a time when policing across the country is being questioned, and there are calls to defund police departments and redistribute those funds to other services, what are your thoughts about Seminole's contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office? Do you think there is room for improvement in local policing? If so, what areas do you think need to be addressed?
TC: In part this question has been addressed above. The implementation of our own police services will better serve our citizens. The contact with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is too costly and inadequate for our city. When we finally establish our own modern, proactive police department many of these issues will be resolved. Look no further than Indian Shores to experience what a new, modern police department might look like.
RE: I absolutely oppose any and all attempts to reduce our police presence in the city. I feel our contract and service level with the county sheriff’s department is excellent and has stood the test of time. We have 12 dedicated full-time deputies assigned to the city with others available for traffic control as needed. The council continually monitors all aspects of the program and makes changes when and where necessary.
JQ: I am not interested in cutting funding for policing. I am interested in law enforcement expanding programs to help persons with mental challenges who might hurt themselves/others. Police should do what they tell us, “if you see something, say something,” if a coworker does something that would hurt a person without cause. Please note that Part I crimes in the city of Seminole is 29.28% less than it was this time last year.
In recent years, there have been concerns about the morale of city employees, particularly Seminole Fire Rescue. Have you seen this morale improve? How can city leaders continue to improve their relationship with SFR and other employees?
TC: When we enhance city services and city buildings, as outlined above, morale improves with these anticipated upgrades. Our fire department was once considered the pride of our city, and the county. Whatever occurred over the years will very likely improve with a needed change on the city council.
RE: I feel that the council, the city and Seminole Fire Rescue found themselves at odds over a number of issues during a long-protracted contract period; however, there is a solid line of communication now between the council, the city and SRF. Chief (Heather) Burford has done a terrific job working with the city and council and I don’t see or feel there are morale issues at this time.
JQ: I believe the entire employee staff: city manager, department heads, general and fire department staffs have and continue to respond to our citizens with all the tools available to them. I personally observe a city team that works together for the good of our citizens. The current fire contract was settled quickly and effectively, with an overwhelming endorsement by the union employees, yet it had little press coverage.
What do you think of Seminole's response to the COVID-19 pandemic? What do you think the city should do to assist Seminole businesses impacted by coronavirus as this crisis continues?
TC: The city and the council must lead by example. Provide masks and social distancing. Wash your hands regularly and vigorously. Provide hand sanitizers and use them regularly. If local businesses should seek assistance from the city, we should provide them with every resource that is available. We should set these examples and continue them in the future.
RE: I believe Seminole continues to do a remarkable job under very difficult circumstances. Seminole has more nursing home and long-term care facilities than most cities our size and much of our call volume revolves around virus-related issues. These calls are time-consuming and present difficult, dangerous situations. Many businesses have or can apply for assistance from the appropriate agencies and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.
JQ: The council has supported following CDC guidelines, offered virtual meetings, and provided recreation and library programs for at home use. Our fire department has assisted skilled nursing facilities. I have distributed masks to senior citizens unable to travel. As for businesses, we were the first city in Pinellas to allow temporarily outdoor dining and tents so restaurants could operate. We also provided information about the county Cares Act funding and assisted some businesses in this process.
Do you support Pinellas County's face mask mandate? How long do you think the county should keep it?
TC: The County is doing the right thing with the imposition of a mask mandate. Do not take this virus lightly, it will kill you or adversely affect us in different ways. Many of these practices we probably should have been doing all along. So do not become complacent. This is a serious matter. The mask mandate should remain in place for as long as it takes.
RE: I absolutely support the county’s mask mandate and will until we see a significant reduction in cases and or a vaccine. I feel the masks are a big deterrent to spreading the virus. When the county determines the number of cases are at a point that warrants relaxing the mandate we can move forward; however, until then I feel we need to continue on our current path.
JQ: I do support the face mask mandate. We, Seminole and America, will continue to use the face mask until we beat this virus.
What kind of policies, if any, do you think Seminole should pursue to promote social and racial justice?
TC: As indicated above the establishment of our own services and buildings will promote social and racial injustice. Better trained, modern personnel is our best asset.
RE: No one city or organization can end poverty or undo racism and other oppressions on its own. We strive, in Seminole, to develop strong collaborations with individuals, partner agencies and coalitions to build movements that will last and make our community stronger for everyone.
JQ: My policy is simple. We are all part of the human race. We all bleed red and my life is not worth more or less than any other human. America has had social and racial policies for hundreds of years. We, the people, are the only ones who can make such changes happen.
There have been some discussions about renovations to Seminole City Hall. How do you think the city should handle upgrades to City Hall?
TC: Has been addressed above. We need to build a new, modern building that better defines us as a growing, modern community. Aesthetics are not going to change this. Too often the public has been turned away from important meetings, like the Seminole Mall/City Center discussions. Or for the fire contract negotiations. Our community deserves better. We are better than that, are we not?
RE: Earlier I noted that we are currently in the process of finalizing plans for renovation of the exterior of city hall and the accompanying signage. We have been reviewing architectural plans and will be approving the project shortly. We have recently completed a total renovation of our sound and video systems within council chambers to better serve our citizens in and during meetings.
JQ: The council members and staff have just discussed that program. We are going forward with a strengthening of the building, making repairs and at the same time utilize materials that give the building a facelift and to make it even more welcoming to the public.
Do you think Seminole City Council and other city leaders need to improve transparency with residents and business owners? How do you think this can be done?
TC: The short answer is yes, absolutely. And again, building an appropriate city hall is an excellent start. A modern building that can adequately accommodate the public and businesses. Build it and they will come, and we as a community will be better for it.
RE: I feel the council, the city manager and staff provide a very transparent image to the residents and businesses of the city. We currently hold at least two in-person Zoom meetings each month open to all citizens and businesses with our advisory boards holding regular forums seeking public opinion. We have been awarded the GOFA award for financial planning and finance, which requires the highest level of transparency in reporting to residents.
JQ: The city proactively provides information to the public. We also have been recognized by GFOA for excellent transparency in our financial reporting and in our annual budget presentation. We also have community advisory boards that hold public meetings, allowing additional transparency. An example of community transparency/engagement was the extensive community input process for the recent Blossom Lake Park redevelopment project. There are greater opportunities for transparency when citizens/business owners participate in their government.
With several potential large projects being discussed — a new fire station, renovations to Seminole City Hall, and talks of a new recreation center — how should the city budget for these and other major plans during this time of economic uncertainty?
TC: When it comes to new fire stations, the county contributes proportionately as Seminole Fire Rescue not only serves the city of Seminole but unincorporated areas as well. So funds have been identified. What we need to do with alacrity is to initiate a study on finding a way to build a new city hall, identify the funding, plan for, and accomplish the project. The current building as indicated above may well serve as our public safety building. Any other proposed project should be handled in this manner.
RE: Seminole is one of only a handful of cities that are currently debt free. We have funds allocated in our budget, including Penny for Pinellas money, to cover many proposed capital improvement projects over the next several years, as well as for the renovation of City Hall. Down the road we will need to decide on how we want to handle the recreation center redevelopment.
JQ: The city council has been planning appropriately for these important projects. All of these have identified source of revenue as part of the plans. When such projects are brought before the council, the city manager and staff has looked at and identified revenues to cove the specific projects.