The two candidates for the District 3 seat on the Pinellas County Commission spent the last forum before the election as they have spent the campaign — wrangling over leadership.
Democratic incumbent Charlie Justice says he has displayed leadership during his term on the commission. The commission, he says, was a “mess” when he took office four years ago: Commissioners were fighting with each other, with the mayors, with fire districts and with cities across the bay.
“It was not a good place to do business,” Justice said.
But all that has changed and a new spirit of collaboration has swept over the commission.
Retired businessman Mike Mikurak, a Republican, doesn’t see it that way. Justice, he says, is a “career politician” who lacks leadership skills and vision. What’s needed, Mikurak says, are creative solutions for the future that can be implemented now.
For Mikurak, that lack of leadership and creativity is apparent in the condition of St. Petersburg’s sewers. During two summer tropical storms, the city’s system was overwhelmed and millions of gallons of partly treated and untreated wastewater was dumped into Tampa Bay.
That, he said, should never have happened if the county had been proactive about its leadership. The fact that the county doesn’t control the St. Petersburg sewer system is “not important,” Mikurak told the crowd at Thursday’s candidates’ forum in Gulfport. With “thoughtful leadership and guidance … proactive guidance,” the problem could have been averted.
What’s needed now, he says, is a plan to fix the system.
Justice agrees fixing all the sewer systems in the county is an important issue. But, he says, the county could not tell St. Petersburg, or any other city, what to do.
“Pinellas County can’t come into Gulfport and tell you how to do your business,” Justice said.
Justice has called for a task force, which met earlier this month, comprised of members from cities and private owners with sewer systems to come up with a countywide plan to remedy the sewer woes facing the county.
The District 3 seat is voted on countywide. Early voting ends Nov. 6. The election is Nov. 8.