In theory, the lack of an election means no one is going to complain about Gulfport’s Ward Four or Ward Two for the next two years.
Well, it’s a nice theory.
I’m specifically speaking about Ward Four, because I live there, yes, but also because I hear the most complaining about how things happen over here. Largely, we get ignored, and it’s a rare election where anyone even runs against the incumbent.
Ward One has the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club, Town Shores, and about three other houses that barely need the city, save at tax time. Ward Two has parties and a marina that’s about to get the upgrade of a lifetime (and not a moment too soon). Ward Three has Stetson, some fine examples of Mediterranean architecture, and an, at times, somewhat indifferent attitude that leads some people to refer to the homes there as “Pasadena Light.”
Ward Four has a park that you can’t use unless you play Little League, a skate park that doesn’t really meet anyone’s needs, and a dependent relationship with St. Petersburg that the Gulfport Neighbors seem to care more about than the people we put in office to foster such relationships.
I can hear the mayor now, asking me what more he can do. And I will tell him to keep on keeping on – go get us money from the state and keep running the meetings like a boss. I’m happy with that. Just because he lives in Ward Four doesn’t mean he has to focus all his energy here.
I’m not even talking about our elected representative, the man who has now walked into office twice with no opposition from anyone. I’m talking to the residents of Ward Four. I’m talking to those of you who I hear say he’s not doing his job, because although he does try and advocate for our ward, his efforts often prove ineffective as no one apparently takes him seriously. You tell me you’re unhappy with the state of the skate park, with the homes in disrepair, with the way the city does this or that. I hear many of you, on the regular, complain about our elected representative. So where the hell were you two weeks ago when you had a chance to make a difference? Because honestly, the person who’s doing the most for our ward is the person who has started a conversation with the Childs Park Neighborhood Association, and she doesn’t even live in our ward. She’s a ward three resident.
Why the pervasive apathy? None of us seem apathetic when we talk on the street, but when the rubber meets the road, where are you?
Look, I knew when I moved to Ward Four we were the red-headed stepchild, and don’t misunderstand: I love a lot of things about living over here. I love that I don’t need flood insurance, that I don’t have to deal with street parties every week, and that because I moved across the street I bought more house for less money per square foot than I would have in wards one or two. I don’t love that we have this ward-wide indifference, that three council people back we couldn’t even summon enough caring to name our ward. Other neighborhoods get called “Stetson” or “Arts” or “Marina” while we don’t care enough to call ourselves anything but Ward Four, which makes us sound like a prison block. Don’t get me started on why that may or may not be appropriate.
This, of course, doesn’t stop people from complaining. Fine. I get that. Complain away. But be part of the solution. You don’t have to run for city council – there are other ways to get involved. It makes no sense to me that a voting district that includes the homes of the mayor, at least one Gulfport police officer, several working artists, three members of the historical society, the proprietor of one of our most successful restaurants, a local pain-in-the-ass columnist, and whoever else I’m forgetting who has the power to effect change beyond their property line should also allow their neighborhood to resemble one of the least-cared-for corners of the city.
And so I have a challenge for Ward Four: Do something. Act like you care about our neighborhood. Start showing up for things. Call the city when you see something you don’t like. 727-893-1010 gets you to the city manager, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Report code violations at 727-893-1061. If you don’t give your name and ask, you can remain anonymous. Don’t bother with the elected official; decisions get made and change happens at the staff level in a city manager form of government. Every first and third Monday, go online and peruse the agenda for the council meeting, and if you don’t understand what’s happening, call the city clerk at 727-893-1012 and ask. If there’s something you need, or something you don’t like, attend the meeting and speak your piece when Mayor Sam asks if anyone has any public comment.
We are fortunate to have a mayor who listens and a city staff that responds to what the residents want and need. You have a voice in our city, and by not using it, you’re getting exactly what you deserve.
Ward Four, we deserve better.
Hard Candy is an opinion column written by veteran reporter Cathy Salustri. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Gabber publishers, staff or advertisers. Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.