We obtained this Letter to the Editor submitted to the Tampa Bay Times by Pinellas County resident David Happe. As of this time, it appears the Times has refused to print it.
Letter to the Editor
An open letter to my fellow Pinellas County Residents regarding the upcoming county commission elections. I am writing in support of the candidacy of Larry Ahern and Tammy Vasquez for County Commissioners to replace Janet Long and Charlie Justice.
Over the past several months, those of us who are politically neutral and focus more on family, faith and future than we do on what politicians are up to have had to pay attention to what’s happening locally and nationally with the CoronaVirus wreaking havoc on our lives, our loved ones and our incomes. Up until now, I have been negligent of my own civic duty of paying attention and getting involved to help make a positive difference.
In the few months that I have been observing and studying local politics and politicians, here is what I have observed :
The Pinellas County Commissioners have a budget of $2.3 billion dollars. The seven member commission controls the spending for that budget, but they really don’t like it when people ask questions about how exactly the money is spent at an itemized level.
One example of that would be the $2m that they allocated to a “Visit Clearwater/St Pete” advertising campaign. A large percentage of that $2m went to an outside of Florida creative agency. That agency created marketing materials showing visitors wearing masks on paddle boards and at the beach, neither of which are recommended or reflective of the attractiveness of our area to tourists. So, they recalled part of the materials, at the expense of the taxpayers that paid for this, and claimed they never reviewed it prior to implementation. They never “reviewed” the marketing materials we spent $2m on
One of the commissioners, Janet Long, who is running for re-election, recently stated that their workload was overwhelming to her. Between the emails and the meetings she was overwhelmed. She put forward a motion that passed on a 4-3 split decision, which effectively eliminated residents from participating in the previously scheduled commission meetings, limiting involvement opportunity by Pinellas residents to 50% of what was previously available.
A few weeks back, Pinellas County commissioners determined that for 2021, they needed to increase the amount of money they had in cash reserves. So, with the expected increases in income from property tax increases in 2021, the net impact will be a tax increase on every homeowner, renter, and business owner in Pinellas County for 2021. Moving money from your bank account and mine to the County savings account was passed on a 6-1 split decision.
Then, lastly they took the seriousness of the local State of Emergency that we operate under, which is causing business restrictions and influencing everything from mask ordinances to emergency funds allocations, and delegated all decision making on the local SOE to an unelected administrative assistant. They no longer discuss this weekly, and the commission members no longer get briefings from local health experts on a weekly basis. The single largest issue affecting our 1,000,000 Pinellas County residents, but these commissioners who we pay an annual salary of $100,000 each didn't have the time nor interest to maintain their direct supervisory authority over the details that affect the health of our people, the strength of our businesses, and the governance of this real State of Emergency. They thought this would be best served in the hands of an unelected bureaucrat who now extends this outside of the lens of public dialogue and scrutiny.
So, my vote is for anyone else. There are candidates who are running for the right reasons. Tammy Vasquez is a business owner and political newcomer who saw how issues like the above were being managed, and decided she would get involved to strengthen Pinellas County. Larry Ahern, no stranger to local politics, also thought we deserved a better and more thoughtful representation. I didn’t know either of these candidates before I started paying attention to what was happening in Pinellas County, but we deserve better.
Candidate for Pinellas County Commission
Tarpon Springs, FL