Under normal circumstances, incumbent candidates have a leg up in elections. And while this year an anti-incumbent trend seems to be sweeping the country, we think incumbency is a plus for candidates for the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.
With the biggest public works project in Escambia County history — the new sewage treatment plant — coming in ahead of schedule and under budget, and an increasingly successful recycling program, sitting board members have a lot to boast about.
There is, however, a fly in the incumbent ointment: a quiet campaign to reverse fluoridation that two years ago elected a single-issue candidate to the board. This year, anti-fluoride candidates are making another run.
Our picks in the two Republican primaries:
• District 2: Lois Benson.
Benson remains one of the most experienced and savvy elected officials in the area. She has a firm grasp of the issues and has pushed ECUA to be more progressive and responsive to customer needs.
She pushed for recycling when many people believed it wouldn’t be accepted in Escambia County, and now it is a popular and successful ECUA service. When she ran for mayor of Pensacola in 2001, a major campaign plank was the need to relocate the Main Street Wastewater Treatment Plant for environmental and economic reasons. Three years later the plant was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Ivan; the move is now nearing completion.
Today she says ECUA needs to push harder on eliminating septic tanks and the water pollution threat they represent. And she says the utility needs to do more to counter misinformation about the quality of drinking water ECUA provides, which she says is high.
Benson says she remains open to new information on fluoride, but so long as public health officials and dentists continue to tout it as a safe and effective public health initiative, she will continue to support adding it to drinking water.
• District 4: Dale Perkins.
There’s no pretense in Perkins. He says what he thinks and isn’t afraid to defend his positions when challenged. That’s helped by the fact he does his homework, thoroughly researching issues and policies so that he can cast informed votes. He comes across as well-informed on ECUA’s budget, programs and policies.
He notes that ECUA didn’t just build a new sewage treatment plant, “we rebuilt the (system’s) infrastructure all the way up there.”
He was the board’s most vocal and energetic critic of a faulty report by a national group on ECUA’s water quality that damaged the utility’s image and raised fears about the quality of the water. He was quick to recognize and point out flaws in the group’s methodology.
He prides himself on never missing a board meeting and being responsive to customer complaints and inquiries.
Perkins admits he’s no expert on fluoride, but says “I’m behind it 100 percent” based on the strong recommendations of a wide range of public health officials.