Thursday, February 6, 2014

Neil Brickfield wants back in on the Pinellas County Commission

Posted By on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 3:17 PM

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A 2012 survey on poverty listed parts of Lealman as among five communities that represent almost half of the the poor people in Pinellas County. This is the community where Neil Brickfield works every day in his role as executive director of the Pinellas Sheriff's Police Athletic League.

"We've got high unemployment, high poverty rates, high foreclosure rates, high arrest rates, high teenage pregnancy rates," he said in a phone interview with CL on Wednesday. "64 percent of our third graders don't read at third grade level," he adds about the challenging environment he encounters every day.

"Despite that, I have to tell you there's great people in our neighborhood. These are great kids who just want a chance at a better life and work towards it and it's very gratifying to spend time there every day."

Having said that, Brickfield also wants a chance at getting his old job back — that being a Pinellas County Commissioner. With the recent surprise announcement that District 4 Commissioner Susan Latvala will not be running for re-election later this year, Brickfield quickly put his hat back in the ring.

When most of the public last heard from Brickfield, he was on the losing end of a political fight against Democrat Janet Long in November of 2012 in his bid for reelection. But along with fellow Republican Nancy Bostock's defeat to Democrat Charlie Justice, many people in Pinellas County saw his race as a referendum on the fluoride issue.

In case you forgot, both Brickfield and Bostock supported the effort to keep the substance out of the county's water supply, a wildly unpopular idea that was savaged by the media, most prominently the Tampa Bay Times editorial page, whose coverage was considered so strong that it won the paper a Pulitzer Prize. A year and a half later Brickfield says he totally gets where the public is on the issue.

"I made a mistake and I acknowledge it, and I certainly learned and have grown from that mistake," he says when asked about it.

The top three issues he'll be running on this year are economic development, protecting the environment, and doing whatever is necessary to bring down flood insurance rates, which thanks to a new federal law are driving up insurance rates dramatically in the county. Acknowledging that it is a federal issue at its root, he says that Pinellas County communities need to unite with the National League of Counties to work together on a solution.
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When asked for his take on the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum, Brickfield says he hasn't decided where he is on the issue. "There are some elements that are attractive," he says, referring to the BRT plan and expanded bus service overall. But the 1-cent increase in sales taxes that Pinellas residents will be required to fund the project "is concerning."

"I'm working on it to keep an open mind, but I certainly haven't made up my mind on whether I'm going to support it or if I'm going to become an advocate for it," he says. No doubt he's aware of a St. Pete Polls survey conducted last week of District 4 voters that said 63 percent would oppose increasing the sales tax to expand public transit, while 45 percent said they would be less likely to support a candidate who supports the Greenlight Pinellas referendum.

In the aforementioned poll, Brickfield received 18 percent support, the second best out of a group of potential nominees who may run for the seat. That was second only to Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers.

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