By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - Republican residents will vote twice in this year's election season when it comes to the County Commissioner District 1 seat.
That's because the two Republican candidates - Billy O'Dell and Fort Pierce Mayor Robert Benton - will run against each other in the primary election on Aug. 14. The man who receives the most votes in August will face off against the current incumbent, Commissioner Christopher Dzadovsky, in the Nov. 6 election. This article focuses on the Republican candidates for the seat.
Hometown News asked the candidates the same questions about their campaign. Their answers are below in alphabetical order, and can also be found online at www.myhometownnews.net.
Hometown News does not endorse any candidates for political office, but instead provides information about each candidate for voters to make an educated decision.
Name: Robert Benton
Occupation: Mayor of Fort Pierce
Spouse: Wife Donna and two sons: Kadri and Kori.
Name: Billy O'Dell
Occupation: President of O'Dell Groves
Spouse: Wife Liza
Q: How long have you lived in St. Lucie County?
Benton: 45 years
O'Dell: 55 years
Q: Why did you decide to run?
Benton: I see various opportunities to improve St. Lucie County's interactions with municipal government, small business and the community as a whole.
O'Dell: It is time for a change. Local businesses closing, unemployment rising and poverty growing are great concerns to me.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, St. Lucie County ranks No. 3 for unemployment in the state. Our county has 13.7 percent of its population with its income below the poverty level, with Fort Pierce having grown to a whopping 28.1 percent of its population with an income below the poverty level. The roundtable of St. Lucie County's 2012 poverty report shows that the number of unemployed person since the year 2000 in the county has risen 222.5 percent and the number of persons in poverty has increased 99 percent, over twice the rate we have grown in population.
We have the second highest millage rate for property taxes. These high levels of unemployment and poverty result in higher crime, more taxes, unsafe neighborhoods and economic suppression. This must change. While our nation is experiencing an economic recession, the county and city of Fort Pierce are far below the national averages. Rebuilding our local economy will be a great challenge and I'm ready for it.
Q: What are the top two issues you wish to see addressed?
Benton: Government efficiency and coordination, and quality, sustainable economic development.
O'Dell: Local business closures and rising unemployment.
Q: What makes you the most qualified candidate?
Benton: I've been a local business owner for more than 25 years. I've served 17 years on the Fort Pierce City Commission, with eight years as a District 2 Commissioner and nine years as mayor. I have the ability to place people over politics. I am a husband and father who knows what's at stake for the future of St. Lucie County.
O'Dell: My 55 years of residence and 30 years of diversified business experience in St. Lucie County will be valuable assets to our board of county commissioners, especially in the areas of economic recovery and development, taxes and government accountability. This experience, plus community and county government service, qualifies me as the best choice to represent the residents as the next county commissioner.