Pelican Bay candidates split over whether to spend or save

Posted Monday, Apr. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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PELICAN BAY - Seven candidates vying for council seats in this tiny city are divided into two camps -- those who favor slashing expenses, and those who want to spend money on improvements to lure developers to the area

In all, three of Pelican Bay's five council seats are up for grabs in the May 11 election -- and early voting begins today. Council members serve two-year, unpaid terms.

The city of about 1,547 occupies less than a square mile near the western shore of Eagle Mountain Lake, in northwest Tarrant County. It is served by the Azle school district, and affords its residents a rural-style escape from the big-city problems of places such as Fort Worth, whose downtown is 25 miles away.

But being isolated from the problems of a big city also means being isolated from its benefits. Pelican Bay has very little commercial activity, so much of the city's roughly $450,000 in annual expenditures has to be covered by property taxes on the area's mostly modest homes. Homeowners in Pelican Bay pay a tax rate of 89.8 cents per $100 valuation -- one of the highest in North Texas.

Earlier this year, City Council members were told by an accountant that their general fund, which covers day-to-day expenditures, was nearly empty -- with a balance of only about $50,000. The budget crunch has led to accusations of mismanagement and hidden agendas among the mayor and council members, and created an atmosphere that many officials agree has become hostile.

One council member running for re-election was even arrested in March for driving without a license in what she described as a politically motivated traffic stop after she raised questions about financial mismanagement during a particularly testy budget meeting.

A few weeks later, city officials were told that the city's fund balance was actually higher -- the most recent estimate is $85,000. But nonetheless, the financial crunch has motivated some council members and their supporters to call for massive cuts in city spending.

Place 3

Among them is Place 3 incumbent Bill Morley, 60, a retiree. He said city employees in the past spent recklessly because "there was no one really checking on it."

"Everybody thought they'd just buy something when they needed it," he said. "We're still sitting at $85,000 or so [fund balance], but granted we're not in tax season so we're not going to have a lot of money coming in. We've really got to be careful here on in."

Morley is being challenged for Place 3 by Sabra Swaim, 48, a graduate of Brewer High School in White Settlement who now works as a criminal investigator in adjacent Parker County.

Swaim favors cracking down on code enforcement at some of the area's unkempt homes, and spending the money necessary to make Pelican Bay an attractive place for home developers.

"With a little work somebody could get development going, and make it into a nice community," she said. But, she added: "We've got people on the council who have properties and are landlords. They don't want to see code enforcement. Everybody has an agenda."

Place 4

Challenger Tish Allen is vying to unseat Glen Oberg for Place 4 alderman.

Allen, 28, a stay-at-home mom who lived in Irving before moving to Pelican Bay four years ago, said the city leadership isn't transparent with how city funds are spent.

She also said the city's Police Department needs to do more to win the trust of residents. The department includes a chief, a lieutenant, one full-time officer, three part-time officers and two unpaid reserve officers.

"The main reason I'm running is breaking the chain of corruption out there and making sure our citizens are heard," she said.

Oberg, 73, the incumbent, has lived in Pelican Bay two years. He moved from Mansfield, where he had lived since 1993 and had run a computer sales, service and recycling business.

Oberg said the city has financial and other challenges but is making progress in getting its spending under control.

"We can meet our obligations but we've got to go into penny-pinching mode, reducing fees where we can, reducing the size of the Police Department," he said.

Place 5

Robin Finstad, 47, is seeking re-election to Place 5, even though she has experienced a turbulent year that included an arrest.

In March, Finstad was arrested by Pelican Bay police after leaving a council budget session -- where she asked pointed questions about where the city had spent its money. Finstad was accused of driving without a license.

Finstad said that if re-elected she will continue to fight for more public disclosure and discussion about where the city spends its funds.

"I'm like a bull with horns," said Finstad, who has lived in the city seven years. "I go in with my horns ready to ram."

Joe Bologna, 32, a truck driver, is vying to unseat Finstad. He believes that Finstad's antics in pressing for financial details at council meetings have become a distraction and take away from the city's efforts to lure new residential developers to town.

"When she shows up, she votes things down," said Bologna, who has lived in the city three years. "Any time the city has wanted to do something -- fix roads, abandoned trailers -- she votes all that down."

Marshal L. Daniel, 20, a Pelican Bay resident for five years, also filed for Place 5. However, he didn't return repeated calls requesting an interview.

Glyn Murphy, pastor at Lighthouse Harbor Church in Pelican Bay, moderated a candidate forum Thursday. Before the debate, Murphy said he had spoken with Daniel and that Daniel said that although he had filed for office he didn't intend to campaign for the position.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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