EAST LAKE — When Tarpon Springs City Commissioner David Banther and state Rep. Chris Latvala met with a pack of Cub Scout Webelos 2 last week, the local municipal official had an advantage over the legislator who spend a lot of time in Tallahassee after Banther told the group he earned his Eagle Scout badge.
In response, Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, had to confess he was only a Boy Scout for a year.
“One of us was an Eagle Scout, and one of us just serves in the Florida House,” Banther joked.
Despite their differing Scouting levels of achievement and perseverance, the pair enjoyed meeting with the eight members of the Nitro Shark Patrol of Pack 475 at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, on East Lake Road.
Faced with questions that ran the gamut from red tide to personal secretaries, Banther and Latvala engaged the group, including pack leaders Kim Campbell and Curtis Pope. They spoke about the importance of being involved in the community and remaining committed to the core Cubs Scouts beliefs.
“You’re only Webelos 2, but it’s not too early to start thinking about your Eagle Scout projects,” Banther, who will term out of office in April after serving two consecutive terms, said. “Don’t do what I did and wait until you’re 18.”
Weblos Scouts are in the fourth and fifth grades.
Latvala, a Dunedin native who is seeking re-election as representative in Florida House District 67 in November, answered some tough questions, including one about child protection laws, before explaining how he got involved in politics.
“I wanted to be a sports broadcaster, but after the 2000 election was so close, that’s the time I started getting interested in government,” Latvala said, referring to the George W. Bush-Al Gore “hanging chad” presidential contest, which required a recount in Florida and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to resolve in Bush’s favor.
“In 2014, I was fortunate to be elected, and I believe it’s a great responsibility and a great honor to make decisions for your city, your community and your state.”
Banther, who will term-limit out of office in the spring, said he “was a geek at a young age and knew I wanted to be involved” in local government. “I knew that’s what my aspirations were, and after I got my Eagle Scout badge, that really prepared me for what I do today.”
While the young scouts did ask some serious questions, the 11 and 12-year-olds had some fun inquiries, also.
“Do you speak Greek?” one astute Webelo asked Banther, who helps govern a city with a large Greek-American population.
“No,” he replied, “but after taking a trip to Greece this summer I am able to say a few words. Mostly the bad ones.”
Earlier this year Banther, Mayor Chris Alahouzos, who was born on the Greek island of Kalymnos, and other city officials visited the town’s sister cities in Greece.
“What’s your favorite part of your job?” another Scout asked. “Talking to Webelos,” Latvala responded.
At the end of the hourlong session, Banther handed out Tarpon Springs “swag,” which included plastic cups and pens and pencils. The boys and their pack leaders then posed for photos with the officials.
Afterwards, Banther and Latvala shared their thoughts about the meeting.
“These kids were very impressive,” Latvala said. “The questions they have, it’s obvious they follow current events. This is one of the favorite parts of my job.”
“I enjoy this because this is where I started as a fourth-grader growing up in Tarpon Springs,” Banther said.
“I don’t expect they will all go on to become elected officials, but the Boy Scouts is important because it exposes the boys to more outdoor skills and leadership skills they will use later in life that they won’t get in school. I know that having an Eagle Scout badge stands out on your resume, and I take it very seriously.”
Campbell, a Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge whose husband is a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy, stressed the importance of having the Scouts meet with fellow public officials like Latvala and Banther.
“Every level of Cub Scouts has some type of government tie, so we like to have sheriffs and fire rescue officials, and now, the representative and the vice-mayor, speak with our boys,” Campbell said.
“Kids today have instincts in them, but sometimes they don’t realize how far they can go. But seeing guys like David Banther and Chris Latvala speak helps them realize their potential.”