Forum helps set two Oldsmar City Council candidates apart

Oldsmar City Council Seat 4 candidates Becky Afonso and Jerry Beverland.

Oldsmar City Council Seat 4 candidates Becky Afonso and Jerry Beverland share a few words prior to the candidate forum on Tuesday night.

Following the surprising news on Tuesday that Daniel Belcher suddenly decided to drop out of the race for Oldsmar City Council Seat 2, and with Mayor Doug Bevis being automatically reelected after running unopposed, the city’s 2016 municipal election on March 15 is now down to two candidates vying for one seat: Becky Afonso and Jerry Beverland for Seat 4.

Thanks to the last-minute news, the parameters for the candidate forum that had been scheduled for Tuesday night were cut in half, in terms of number of participants and allotted time.

But despite the unusual situation, the two remaining candidates adapted quickly, and by the end of the half-hour event, they were able to differentiate themselves for the voters.

Beverland, 80, a former Oldsmar mayor and council member and city historian, is a longtime politician who wants back in after a brief retirement, while Afonso, 52, who serves as the executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association, is an avid outdoorsperson and noted community activist who is running for office in hopes of making a difference.

Oldsmar City Council Seat 4 candidates Becky Afonso and Jerry Beverland at the candidate forum on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016.

Oldsmar City Council Seat 4 candidates Becky Afonso and Jerry Beverland at the candidate forum on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016.

Soon after their opening remarks, in which each candidate overtly professed their deep love for the City of Oldsmar, their dissimilarities became clearer as the audience-submitted questions got more precise.

Here’s how the pair responded, in order, to various questions dealing with issues affecting the city:

What would you like to see happen with the stalled downtown development project?

“I’ve been in council meetings hearing about this over the years,” Afonso said. “Perhaps a reassessment of the priorities to broaden the scope of the proposal participation and to set a deadline to commit.”

“I would also consider how the people will access this area,” she added. “Is it going to be by car? By bicycle? Walking? Is the Oldsmar Trail going to lead into this area? And that would actually help in examining what type of facility, and how it interplays with residents.”

Oldsmar City Council Seat 4 candidate Becky Afonso.

Oldsmar City Council Seat 4 candidate Becky Afonso.

“As far as the downtown redevelopment, we tried that three times and we failed three times,” Beverland said, referring to his previous terms in office. “You can have bicycle tracks all over the world, but it’s how people get here.”

“We have an incredible piece of land over here,” he said of the seven-acre parcel located next to City Hall. “And with the right direction, we can build a downtown here that’s second to nobody.”

Would your employment cause you to miss any city council meetings?

“My employment would not require it,” Afonso replied. “But personal-wise, if there’s a family event that comes up on a council meeting, and I want to see my nephew receive his Eagle Scout certification, I’m going to Colorado.”

Oldsmar City Council Seat 4 candidate Jerry Beverland.

Oldsmar City Council Seat 4 candidate Jerry Beverland.

“I’ve been on the City Council as mayor and council member for 25 years, and the only time I’ve ever missed a meeting is when I went to Mease Countryside and they cut both of my knees off and threw them in the garbage,” the notoriously colorful Beverland responded. “I have never missed another meeting in 25 years.”

How would you promote the arts in Oldsmar?

“One program I’d like to see, personally, is to ask the art community to consider creating artistic bicycle racks and put them outside of businesses and other areas in Oldsmar,” Afonso said. “That was done in Dunedin with very much success.”

“The arts in the City of Oldsmar, I think people who have been here a long time would agree, that I started it,” Beverland followed. “When I was mayor in the mid-1990s, we contracted with the University of South Florida, and they had art exhibits here. We had art in City Hall constantly. Constantly. I love the arts.”

Canal Park is great for Oldsmar’s youth, but can we devote more resources to the city’s senior citizens?

“That land is not owned by the City of Oldsmar. We lease it for $1.00 a year from SWIFTMUD,” Beverland said. “We can only put certain things there, and…I made the motion in 1993 to build Canal Park when the other council members didn’t want to do it. But we did it anyway. There’s other places we need to work with with the senior citizens. We can only put so much down there, according with our agreement with SWIFTMUD.”

“What we have actually behind all there is the Oldsmar Trail,” Afonso responded. “And this is something that can be utilized for the senior citizens of they want to get out and walk or ride a bicycle. I have offered my services to actually take some of those citizens out on a bicycle ride and show them where they can get around town without being in the traffic of Tampa Road, and how they could make a day of it just using the trail.”

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Becky Afonso and Jerry Beverland share a laugh at the end of the candidate forum on Tuesday night.

Becky Afonso and Jerry Beverland share a laugh at the end of the candidate forum on Tuesday night.

While their answers to these and other questions will no doubt be helpful to voters, the forum ended on a lighter note when the candidates had to ask each other a question.

That led to this classic exchange.

“Where in Oldsmar do you spend most of your time?” Afonso, the avid cyclist, asked Beverland, a four-time author.

To which he replied, “I spend most of my time at my house! I write books.”

Then it was Beverland’s turn.

“Who you gonna vote for?!” he quickly asked before the moderator could even finish speaking, as the room exploded in laughter, including from Afonso.

That’s the only question Oldsmar’s voters will have to answer on March 15.

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