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Scientologists recommend Frank Hibbard, Kathleen Beckman in Clearwater races

The group also weighed in on City Council races.

A group of Clearwater Scientologists has released recommendations for the Clearwater Mayoral and City Council races.

The group based its recommendations almost solely on candidates’ commitments to First Amendment protections.

Scientologists Brett Miller and Joanie and Steve Sigal recommended Frank Hibbard for Mayor. Hibbard previously served as Mayor from 2005 until 2012, leaving office because of term limits.

Since his departure, Hibbard has remained active in the community, sitting on boards for Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The visible Scientology members lauded Hibbard’s platform for developing a strategic plan for the city they called “sensible.”

But the group offered some reservation.

“We make this recommendation with some reservation, however, because of Mr. Hibbard’s choice of campaign consultant who has used slanted promotional materials and misleading surveys to encourage anti-First Amendment divisions in the city,” the Scientologists wrote.

The group did not elaborate on what materials it was referencing.

In its recommendations, the trio left out former City Council member Bill Jonson. The group praised his “collaborative and thoughtful” approach to governance and his work on neighborhood causes and advocacy on oversight and accountability but wrote that Jonson’s skillsets were not what it identified as needed in the city’s next Mayor.

The group also rejected small business owner Morton Myers who it said was “not adequately prepared.”

Also running is Elizabeth “Sea Turtle” Drayer. The Scientology group offered little reason for rejecting her campaign other than to poke fun at her environmental advocacy.

“[She] began her campaign dressed in a sea turtle costume. Nothing more really needs to be said,” it wrote.

The winner in the mayoral race will replace George Cretekos who is leaving office because of term limits.

The Scientology members are recommending Eliseo Santana Jr. for the Seat 2 City Council race to replace Jay Polglaze, rejecting candidates Mark Bunker, Mike Manino, Lina Teixeira and Bruce Rector.

The group said it was a close call between Santana and Rector, but in the end it believed Santana had better chops to “aggressively defend constitutional liberties.”

Santana is a retired administrator for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and an Army veteran. His platform emphasizes using opportunity zones to encourage investment in troubled neighborhoods.

In Seat 3, the group recommends retired teacher Kathleen Beckman over incumbent Bob Cundiff.

The members praised Beckman for her responses in candidate questions in both the Tampa Bay Times and in community forums in which she “correctly differentiated between individual citizens who were members of the Church of Scientology and the Church itself.”

While the group’s primary recommendation went to Beckman, it also wrote that Cundiff would likely continue to do “a good job representing the entire community.”

Also running are small business owner Bud Elias and human resources professional Scott Thomas. The Scientology members praised both candidates, writing that Elias was “well-positioned to bring different factions of the community together for the betterment of all.”

The group cautioned voters on Thomas writing that would “like to see more community involvement with a better understanding of local issues and a longer track record of service.”

The Clearwater election is the same day as the Presidential Preference Primary — March 17.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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