Largo City Elections: Know Your Candidates
Commissioner Mary Gray Black will face Michael Smith, a senior library assistant, in the race for Seat 1.
Although Vice Mayor Robert Murray won’t face a challenge for Seat 2 on the city commission, a battle is brewing for Seat 1.
Commissioner Mary Black, who has more than three decades of city government experience, is facing off against Michael Smith, a senior library assistant who says it is time for a new voice on the commission.
Residents must register to vote by Oct. 11 to participate in the election. Election Day is Nov. 8.
Two voter registration drives will be held at the St. Petersburg College Epicenter in Largo, one from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 30 and another from noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 14.
Registration applications can also be picked up at City Hall, the Largo Police Department and the Largo Public Library. Citizens can drop off the applications or mail them to the Supervisor of Elections office. The form can also be found here.
Although early voting in the strictest sense is not available, voters can go to the Supervisor of Elections office and turn in an “over the counter” vote during the 45 days leading up to Nov. 8. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Meet the Candidates
Commissioner Mary Black has lived in Largo for 43 years and been a longtime fixture in city government. She began an 18-year career as city clerk for Belleair Beach in 1973 and was first elected to the Largo City Commission in 1975. She was re-elected twice before serving as member and chair of the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment from 1984-89, when she regained her commission seat. Black resigned two years later and mounted an unsuccessful primary bid for the state Legislature.
She was elected to the city commission again in 2005. Black was re-elected in 2008.
The recession has given her a new focus: to maintain infrastructure and services during tough financial times.
Black said she reviews the annual budget “with an eye to reducing the cost of operation as much as possible without reducing the level of service.”
As an example, she pointed out that although the city staff has an outside contracted city attorney, Largo also pays full-time salary and benefits to an assistant city attorney who does similar work. Black said she has a plan that would save thousands of dollars a year.
“I propose that the city attorney contract be terminated, that the assistant city attorney position be eliminated and that the city manager be requested to appoint a full-time employee city attorney. I would further recommend the appointment of the current assistant city attorney to fill the office of city attorney,” she said.
Whenever possible, Black said infrastructure improvements should be paid for through local option sales tax funds, stormwater drainage funds and sanitary sewer funds.
When it comes to balancing the budget, Black is opposed to raising property taxes or user charges “unless there is no other recourse.”
Last month, when other commissioners voted to raise the 2012 maximum property tax rate, Black was the only one opposed.
She would prefer the city find creative ways to save money and cited examples in the proposed 2012 budget, such as closing the library on Sundays or relying on outside management at the golf course.
Black said the toughest part of balancing the budget is “those cuts which reduce personnel because real people, who have families and needs, will lose their jobs. And these individuals have relied on city employment to meet those needs.”
At a recent commission meeting, Commissioner Curtis Holmes questioned entertainment’s role in city government. Black said she supports the higher quality of life entertainment brings to residents, but it should be self-supported and locally contracted as often as possible.
For example, the new Largo Community Center allows local theater groups to pay a fee to put on a production, which Black said covers city costs.
In drawing a distinction with her opponent, she said, “I am the better candidate in this election because I have the city government experience (both administrative and legislative), the city knowledge and the leadership skills necessary to be the voice of the people of Largo. I will continue to represent our residents and property owners with honesty, integrity and dedication.”
Michael Smith was born in Largo, where he has spent the majority of his life. He first volunteered for a local political campaign at age 14 and in college served as the student body president at St. Petersburg College.
Smith worked in grocery store management before becoming a Pinellas Park library assistant in 2005 and eventually senior library assistant in 2007. The city commission appointed Smith to the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee for a three-year term in July 2010, and now he hopes to win Seat 1.
Smith said his No. 1 priority is “to bring a new voice of common-sense fiscal responsibility to the discussion.”
He thinks the budget is the greatest challenge the city faces.
Smith said he prioritizes city spending in this order, from most important to least: public safety (police and fire), public services (trash, sewer and water), public recreation (parks, library, community centers) and city beautification.
He warned that the city “will lose both citizens and local businesses” if it is unable to cut the budget responsibly.
“In the coming years, the city will have to reduce the budget by millions of dollars, and I believe this needs to be done with a scalpel, not an ax,” he said.
When the time comes to cut nonvital services, Smith said he would cut incrementally rather than get rid of entire programs.
By gradually cutting services, he said, the city can “gauge which ones are truly viewed to be the most vital by the community, which can then guide us in making future decisions that are more informed by the public’s desires.”
He pointed to closing the library on Sundays, which he said “stung a bit at first,” as a prime example of incrementally cutting costs. Smith said the community has learned to adjust, and from what he’s gathered complaints have gone down.
Smith recognizes, however, that large cuts must be made. He said he would seek to consolidate city departments to save on management costs rather than cut rank-and-file positions.
“As someone that works with the public, I believe in the upside-down pyramid, in that the workers that come into direct and constant contact with the citizens are the most vital part of any community,” he said.
The cuts that pain Smith the most are the six full-time-equivalent firefighter positions lost in closing Fire Station 39.
In response to Commissioner Curtis Holmes questioning entertainment’s role in city government, Smith said he understands Holmes’ desire to cut “money drains” from the budget but that culture plays an important role in the community and he thinks government should foster it.
“I believe that living up to our reputation as the City of Progress will serve us well. Finding a way to embrace cost-saving methods without compromising on the culture that Largo is known for will help us all to enjoy this community where we ‘Live, work and play.’ ”
As for what makes him the better candidate, Smith said, “my opponent has been a part of Largo politics since the 1970s. While I admire her devotion to serving our community, I feel that a fresh voice can bring a new perspective to the discussion about our city’s current needs.”
Ryan Everett Thurman
A third candidate, Ryan Everett Thurman, filed to run but was unable to get the required number of petition cards signed. Thurman said he plans to run for mayor next year.
"I wanted to run for mayor, but since the mayoral election isn’t till next year I thought I’d get on the commission first, then see what happens," Thurman said.