Categories: Thrive

Pinellas County Commission candidates speak at virtual Suncoast Tiger Bay forum

As election day draws closer, the four candidates running for Pinellas County Commission District 7 gathered on the virtual podium at Wednesday’s Suncoast Tiger Bay candidate forum. 

The candidates vying for the seat currently occupied by Ken Welch include:

  • Rene Flowers, a St. Petersburg native and former city council member who currently serves on the school board. Her interests include affordable housing, support for small, minority and women-owned businesses, the environment and economic development. 
  • Wengay “Newt” Newton, a St. Petersburg native and former city council member who currently serves as the state representative for District 70. Areas of interest include advocating for after school and juvenile summer job programs to keep young adults out of trouble. 
  • Frank Peterman Jr., a St. Petersburg native and former city council member who served three and a half terms as a state representative for District 55. His focus areas include community development for small businesses, creating a robust community resources program, affordable housing and transportation.
  • Maria Scruggs, a St. Petersburg native with an extensive background in law enforcement and nonprofits and president of the NAACP St. Petersburg chapter. Interest areas include support for small businesses, creating an environment that supports businesses paying liveable wages, and preparing young people for job opportunities.

During the hourlong forum, the candidates shared their platforms and talked about their plans if they’re elected. Flowers, Newton and Peterman will run against one another for the democratic nomination Aug. 18. Scruggs, a democrat who is registered as an independent for the election, will face the winner in the general election in November. 

All four candidates spoke of the importance of being able to collaborate across the aisle with other commissioners, especially when it relates to the county budget.

“These are trying times,” Newton said, pointing out the large amount of financial resources he’s brought back to Pinellas County while serving as a state representative. “We have to look out for each other.”

Scruggs spoke of the importance of establishing budgetary priorities in light of diminishing revenue due to Covid-19.

“One of the ways we get ahead of things is to come to a community consensus,” she said. “The county needs to come together and work with target industries to create job opportunities.”

On the issue of homelessness, the candidates were in agreement that more needs to be done to support people in getting back on their feet, and that underlying issues leading to homelessness need to be addressed. 

“We need to pull together all organizations throughout Pinellas County under one roof to best use our funding resources and staff,” Flowers said, adding she would be interested in looking into bringing tiny home developments as a way to provide affordable housing.

Peterman said he’d like to see three hubs established to serve the needs of the homeless across the county, and make sure everyone is being taken care of. 

“We need to have more mental health support,” he said, a sentiment echoed by the other candidates.

With Covid-19 impacting the area’s ability to generate tourism-related revenue, the candidates were in support of being creative in finding ways to alleviate the financial hit. Scruggs said that if elected, she’d focus on attracting targeted industries. Flowers, Newton and Peterman spoke of their desire to establish partnerships at both the public and private level and to help support small businesses that are struggling during the pandemic. 

Flowers, Newton and Peterman also said they support allowing developers to build new projects within part of the Coastal High Hazard Area, a 16,328-acre designation that encompasses 41 percent of the city’s total land area. However, they all stressed the importance of smart and responsible development to mitigate potential disaster from storm surge. Scruggs said she would remain neutral on the topic until she has a better understanding of it. 

As the session concluded, all four candidates voiced support for extending paid medical leave to part-time and contract county employees and shared their thoughts on the type of support the county should provide to local schools. Flowers would be interested in partnering with the county health department and working to ramp up immunizations. Peterman said he’d like to see a facility built that could address a variety of health needs for school-aged children. Scruggs spoke of the importance of bolstering literacy programs to ensure children are learning to read. Newton said early childhood education and collaborations with parents are critical. 

Jaymi Butler

Jaymi Butler began her writing career as a newspaper reporter in Savannah, Georgia. Her adventures continued in South Carolina and finally brought her back to her home state of Florida. When she’s not writing or playing word games on her phone, Jaymi can probably be found horseback riding, checking out new restaurants, and spending time with her family, friends, and any dog that happens to be nearby.

Recent Posts

Business, government leaders mourn death of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg

Local leaders took to social media to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of…

13 hours ago

Tampa Bay Tech summit gets personal with A-LIGN, Sourcetoad CEOs

The CEOs of two of the area’s fastest growing companies traded strategies for success during…

13 hours ago

Roy Peter Clark: One more baseball ritual: shaking hands *Or, this year, bumping elbows

I thought I had an important idea to contribute to the culture of baseball last…

14 hours ago

LocalShops1 founder slows down, becomes more purposeful during pandemic

Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, Ester Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1, has found new ways…

14 hours ago

‘Catalyst Sessions’ recap: Staci Sabarsky and Owen Robertson

 Tampa’s Innovocative Theatre and Lab Theater Project are teaming up to produce four performances…

14 hours ago

St. Pete tech firm finds profound shifts in grocery shopping during Covid-19 crisis

Grocery shopping has changed dramatically since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic. Consumers are taking fewer…

1 day ago