Gulfport Candidates Follow-up Q&A

With Gulfport’s municipal elections less than two weeks away, the Gabber asked each of the mayoral candidates, and candidates running for election in Wards 2 and 4, follow-up questions provided by residents and editorial staff. Answers have been lightly edited for style and grammar. You can read responses to the introductory questionnaire here, as well as find original filing paperwork for each candidate. 

Gulfport municipal elections are city-wide – residents of all wards may vote for mayor and all councilmembers. Mail ballots are available by contacting the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office at 727-464-8683. The deadline to request a mail ballot is March 6. The election will take place March 12 and there will be three poling places open in Gulfport on election day: Gulfport City Hall, Gulfport Recreation Center and Gulfport Neighborhood Center. You can find a list of local polling places and more at mygulfport.us/gulfport-municipal-election-information.

Mayor’s Race

Sam Henderson, Incumbent Mayor

How many years has Gulfport been your primary residence? How many times have you voted in a Gulfport election?

Henderson: I have lived at the same address in Gulfport for 13 years and have voted in every eligible election since registering to vote in 2006.

Council communication with the public has been identified as a key issue of this municipal election and many have suggested that regularly surveying residents is one way to gauge public opinion. Provide three questions you would like to include in a survey to Gulfport residents. 

Henderson: First of all, we publicly advertise every meeting and public hearing in compliance with state law, and additionally through our city website and Facebook page. We exceed this standard in many cases in order to keep residents notified. We strive to be transparent by providing this information and encourage people to do their part to stay informed through these channels.

Survey questions:

What public works projects are most important to you?

What municipal services are most important to you?

How can we improve our customer service as a city?

There has been much discussion about the “character” of Gulfport and whether or not this could or should be codified in some way. What specific ways do propose the city can balance Gulfport’s “character” with further development? 

Henderson: The most powerful and underestimated tool we have is Site Plan Review, to which all new commercial developments are subject. This allows council to require additional efforts on the part of the developer to integrate into the existing structural stock. We already have height restrictions and minimum setbacks in our city code, and though FEMA base flood elevation requirements must still be met, this does restrict construction dimensions. Part of this challenge is that “character” is subjective and not readily defined. It means something different to everyone. As a council, we have to balance maintaining the subjective feel of the Gulfport community with not infringing on the rights of property owners and thus leaving ourselves open to litigation. I believe there are additional protections we could introduce in the Waterfront Redevelopment area as it seems most likely to attract development, though we have to be cautious that we remain within the bounds of the law in establishing further restrictions. One such avenue would be to halt the granting of parking variances. This would force future development to accommodate all required parking on site. This too would have pros and cons. It is a delicate but important balance to maintain.

Voter turnout in Gulfport has been an issue in past elections. While independent efforts like the Gulfport Votes 100% initiative are working to raise turnout, what specific measures do you propose the city could do to raise the voter turnout in Gulfport?

Henderson: Voter turnout is an issue in every election, from our municipal races to the national level. Gulfport Votes 100% has made a great effort to highlight this, and I appreciate that work. As a registered voter, I cannot imagine not voting in an election. That right is to me an obligation. While I believe that it is the responsibility of each eligible individual to educate themselves on the issues and candidates on a given ballot, there are of course untapped mechanisms for getting the vote out. As a candidate, I absolutely want voters to participate. This is why I host meet & greets, knock on doors, make phone calls, post ads and send mailers. A voter unreached is a lost opportunity. As a city, we work with the SOE to establish polling locations and print ballots, we host a candidate’s forum, we advertise the election in local media, on our Spectrum TV channel 640 and on our website and Facebook page. In the end, it is simply tough to battle voter apathy. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the city to provide avenues of information, but it is the responsibility of the individual to vote.

 

Frank Kemnetz, Mayoral Candidate

How many years has Gulfport been your primary residence? How many times have you voted in a Gulfport election?

Kemnetz: My wife and I were living overseas when we chose Gulfport as our retirement home seven years ago, and we have been full-time residents for five years. To the best of my recollection, I have voted in every election since 2012. 

Council communication with the public has been identified as a key issue of this municipal election and many have suggested that regularly surveying residents is one way to gauge public opinion. Provide three questions you would like to include in a survey to Gulfport residents. 

Kemnetz:

1. Select all the downtown parking enhancement options below that you support: 

a. Use underutilized city parking (e.g. Library, Hickman Theater) and contracted private parking (e.g. church parking lots) near downtown.

b. Restaurants voluntarily offer to arrange transportation (e.g. Uber, Lyft) when taking reservations.

c. Develop/communicate a parking plan for every major event.

d. Implement metered parking but give residents a parking sticker.

2. Should city government have the authority to prohibit vacation rentals (like “Airbnb”) for a private residence in Gulfport? (YES or NO)

3. On a 1-10 scale, rate the condition of Gulfport streets/alleys (1=”poor”,
10=“excellent”) 

There has been much discussion about the “character” of Gulfport and whether or not this could or should be codified in some way. What specific ways do propose the city can balance Gulfport’s “character” with further development? 

Kemnetz: “City character” means different things to different people, so we need greater clarity on what we want to preserve. What is the best balance of residential vs. commercial space? What limits should be placed on building size/height or architectural style? These decisions should be guided by the “will of the people” – input from citizens, and then incorporated into zoning plans. 

Equally important to the “character” of our city is public safety, sound infrastructure management, and transparency in city government. 

Gulfport has had a very high property crime rate for decades. Few people know this because of a lack of transparency. Transparency in government means that you disclose the facts and inform the citizens whether the news is good or bad. 

Following the release of 1.36 million gallons of untreated waste water (sewage) into the waters of the state, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection ordered Gulfport to undertake an extensive list of corrective actions that are detailed in a 2017 Consent Order. Gulfport avoided civil penalties of $144,000 by agreeing to a project for lateral replacement assistance. The FDEP would not have mandated corrective action if city leaders were responsibly managing infrastructure! 

Verify facts at kemnetzformayor.org/platform 

Part of your campaign has focused on crime in Gulfport. In light of the Gulfport Police Chief’s recent presentation to council stating that Gulfport’s crime rate is the lowest in over 30 years – partially attributed to active community involvement – what specific, new measures would you propose to reduce crime in Gulfport? 

Gulfport’s “lowest crime in 34 years” is a crime rate that is equal to the Los Angeles crime rate, higher than New York City and higher than 85% of other cities in the U.S.! Verify the facts here: kemnetzformayor.org/platform 

Most of the crimes are theft and many occur because of “easy targets” – unlocked vehicles and homes. People don’t lock their vehicles/homes because they don’t know about the high theft rate. The thieves know that there are easy targets and keep coming back for more! 

How do you motivate people to change habits and start locking vehicles and homes? Do you tell them there is nothing to worry about or do you explain that we have a serious problem with theft? Raising awareness is a top priority. 

Specific actions: (1) Raise awareness through direct contact with residents – via email, Gulfport Facebook pages, robocalls, and/or mailing; (2) Police and neighborhood watch groups walk neighborhoods, check for unlocked vehicles/homes and warn people that they are easy targets; (3) Better utilize the extensive camera network in the city and private video surveillance (such as “Ring” doorbells) to monitor suspicious activity and prevent crimes. 

Let’s make Gulfport one of the safest cities in America! 

Ward 2 Candidates

How many years has Gulfport been your primary residence? How many times have you voted in a Gulfport election? 

Christine Brown, Incubant: Gulfport has been my home since August 1988. Voting, especially for local candidates, has a direct impact on the services that we connect with on a daily basis.  I have been a registered voter since September of 1988 and to the best of my knowledge, I have never missed a local race.  

Byron Chalfont, Candidate: I have lived in Gulfport and in Ward 2 since December of 2013. I believe I have voted in every election except one I know I missed because we were very busy and short handed at the restaurant and I couldn’t get there. I have made every effort to vote in every election since I was 18. I consider it a duty as a citizen, but more than that a privilege that is not available worldwide. I am thankful to live in this country.

Chrisan Herron, Candidate: Long enough to have first-hand experience of the issues facing the citizens of Gulfport, six plus years. I exercise my right to vote for candidates that will make a difference. I voted in elections twice as a resident of Gulfport.

 

Council communication with the public has been identified as a key issue of this municipal election and many have suggested that regularly surveying residents is one way to gauge public opinion. Provide three questions you would like to include in a survey to Gulfport residents. 

BROWN: What attracts you to downtown Gulfport?

  • Arts/Cultural 
  • Restaurants 
  • Shopping
  • Music/entertainment
  • Events
  • Waterfront 

What do you like most about living in Gulfport?

  • Full service city
  • Friendliness 
  • Diversity
  • Acceptance
  • Parks, recreation, playgrounds
  • Events
  • Pedestrian/bicycle friendly
  • Pet friendly 
  • Volunteer spirit

What public space enhancement projects do you appreciate the most?

  • Mooring Field 
  • Marina upgrades and improvements
  • Clymer Art Walk
  • 49thStreet Outfall Project
  • Casino Floating Docks
  • Waterfront and boardwalk improvements
  • Clam Bayou Pier Replacements
  • Trolley Market Square
  • Skate Park

CHALFONT: Many questions could be asked in polls about everything from parking and use of parks to how would you rate the performance of different departments in the city. The most important part would be how to administer these polls. I believe the best cost-effective way would be online polling allowing each household to log in by address or perhaps by voter registration number. That would deter repeat voters and outside influences. Communication is more than polling. Everyone in town knows where I am all day everyday (except Sundays). I will always listen and hopefully have an answer.

HERROD: The city is projecting it will cost 10M dollars to build a new senior center.  Are you in favor of taxpayers funding 10% of the project? 

Funding was not identified for Phase III of the Breakwater Park in Resolution 2018-74, dated Oct 2018. Do you support spending additional money to fund Phase III which involves construction of scenic overlooks and lighted signage?  

The city spends 8M dollars on employee costs per year. Excluding Police and First Responders, would you support a review of city services and the city organizational structure in order to streamline and reduce operational costs?

 

Public parking on Beach and Shore boulevards has been identified as an issue in this municipal election. Provide three specific and practical solutions that can increase parking options in these two areas beginning as soon as 2019-2020.

BROWN: Our popularity as a destination effects both businesses and residents when parking is of concern. The newly redesigned beach parking lot, the Shore Boulevard makeover and the boardwalk created on the east side of the Casino did a lot to increase parking. We have satellite parking areas, trolley service during events and beautiful signage. We have counted parking spaces, conducted surveys and analyzed results. The city has been an active participant in the solution process. One new idea, because this is an ever-changing situation, would be to continually review the overall situation and examine what is working, what is not and consider additional solutions. Another idea would be to routinely release a map in conjunction with every scheduled event: online, on social media and in the Gabber that directs drivers to all parking areas and also includes information about transportation services that are available.  As a community, we should encourage other modes of transportation such as biking, walking or even carpooling. The one thing I do know is that I will never be in favor of paving greenspaces for parking or building multi-story parking garages. This is Gulfport; we know how to think outside the box. 

CHALFONT: There is no good short-term fix for parking. We should not add more parking lots or pave green space to alleviate parking. Having more standardized and extended hours for the GetGo and Trolley may alleviate some of the problem giving people some options. My long-term goal would be to consider a two- to three- story parking garage situated over the existing parking lots between the Library and the Senior Center. This could be constructed to tie into the existing buildings and with landscaping around the building would make it a nice addition. Parking there would be easy walking distance to the shops and restaurants. Doing this in conjunction with making Beach Boulevard and Shore Drive a two-hour max parking zone would stop people from taking up the parking on Beach for days at a time. There should also be more enforcement of parking laws on the side streets.

HERROD: The parking issue can be addressed using several solutions. The city has parking lots that if paved and marked would add additional parking. The current parking areas around Scout Hall, Wood Ibis park, Veterans Park, and the parking areas surrounding Hoyt field could be resurfaced using eco-friendly paving materials, enabling better drainage and reducing potential flooding. State-of-the-art parking monitoring/meter devices could be implemented along Beach and Shore boulevards and activated during major events. These meter devices are remotely operated, accept coins or credit, and can be activated or turned off as needed during major events. Having meters active during events will restrict the number of hours a person can leave their car parked, increase turnover of visitors during the day and bring in additional revenue to the city. We should be more proactive in advertising alternative parking areas, such as at the marina or Hoyt field, and post trolley routes between the parking areas and downtown. Other potential parking options in the area should be considered for surface parking, such as the vacant Bank of America site on 58th Street S. 

 

Other than the topics of communications, parking, sewers, water quality and short-term rentals, if elected, identify two action items in Ward 2 you plan to bring to council during 2019-2020 and explain why each one is a priority.

BROWN: Ward 2 encompasses most of the areas in our community that will be the first to evacuate during a hurricane. As a founding and active member of Gulfport’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), I am committed to assisting our residents when evacuation orders are mandated by Pinellas County. Leaving your home during a catastrophic weather event can be a difficult and confusing time. Working with our CERT volunteers, I would like to develop an informative ad campaign to help our residents be the most prepared citizens in the county and encourage folks to explore options other than evacuating to a county shelter especially when pets are a concern.  

Gulfport Fire Rescue operates under a Statewide Mutual Aid agreement signed by all 67 counties. When our ALS (Advanced Life Support) engine is on a call, the nearest fire department will be dispatched to Gulfport for any emergency call that comes in. No area of the county is left uncovered because of this mutual aid agreement. During my years as a volunteer firefighter for Gulfport, we had several fire apparatus including a rescue box truck. I would like to work with Pinellas County to fund a new rescue vehicle for Gulfport.

CHALFONT: Other than the aforementioned problems which are the top priorities, I would like to consider going solar if it can truly reduce energy costs. There are other repairs and/or equipment updates such as air conditioners and LED lighting which can reduce waste. We can’t fix everything in one year but we need to really make a plan and accomplish what we can. Every reduction in waste gives us more for the amenities we all would like to see in the future.
Term limits is also something I would back.
Thank you for your consideration.

HERROD: Focus on Ward 2 infrastructure issues.  Continue support for current improvements to sewers, roadways and the waterfront. Our infrastructure is the underpinning of our community, modernization of the infrastructure is imperative for sustaining businesses and residential areas, and for protecting our waterfront environment. Alleyways throughout the city should be either be paved, milled or regraded. Many of our citizens enter their homes from an alleyway. Trash and debris removal trucks use alleyways daily causing deep ruts and heavy dust. The city should ensure that allocated funds are used to fix this problem, not diverted for other projects.

Focus on revising the city’s zoning and building codes. The preservation of the “small old town Florida” feel of Gulfport should be documented. The solution is to create a citizen-led committee that develops the guidelines for adoption in a Gulfport City Character Plan. In conjunction with this initiative, a complete review of city building code ordinances and zoning should be completed to ensure ordinances and zoning support the City Character Plan. Much of the city ordinance documentation needs revision to ensure it is enforceable and supports managed growth and sustainment of our city’s charm.  

Ward 4 Candidates

Michael Fridovich, Incumbent 

How many years has Gulfport been your primary residence? How many times have you voted in a Gulfport election? 

My only residence. Approx eight and a half years. I have voted in every election since and before I lived in Gulfport.

Council communication with the public has been identified as a key issue of this municipal election and many have suggested that regularly surveying residents is one way to gauge public opinion. Provide three questions you would like to include in a survey to Gulfport residents. 

In the last six years on city council serving the citizens on Gulfport I have created a daily survey in speaking with many of our friends and neighbours who have shared with me their concerns, hopes and dreams so we can strive together for a better Gulfport.

For the those who I do not have the pleasure of seeing daily I have always had my cell number on my business cards so I am available when needed. As well as my email address.

Describe your specific plan for improving the business climate in the 49th Street South district.

The businesses on 49th Street are flourishing. With [the] addition the of Trolley Market Square and other improvements that we have done over [the] last six or so years, the business climate will continue to improve. As new businesses continue to move in it will only continue to do better.

In your campaign, you have said two of your goals are “fighting misconceptions and many untruths” on 49th Street South. Provide at least two specific examples and detail your plan to correct each one.

49th Street business district is safer, cleaner and more vibrant than ever. This is exemplified by the businesses that are thriving on the 49th Street business district. There are few empty store fronts and new business are arriving. This is an example that of how well the business environment is on the 49th Street corridor really is. The negativity that has been mentioned is only in the eyes of those who choose to be negative, not the reality of today.

 

Richard Fried, Candidate

How many years has Gulfport been your primary residence? How many times have you voted in a Gulfport election? 

I have been a resident of Gulfport since August 2007. I voted in mayoral (and ward) during our last two election cycles. That is at least six years of voting in our Gulfport elections; prior to that, I do not recall. Prior to that I was an election poll worker.

Council communication with the public has been identified as a key issue of this municipal election and many have suggested that regularly surveying residents is one way to gauge public opinion. Provide three questions you would like to include in a survey to Gulfport residents. 

FYI: I dislike surveys;

  1. 1. Does the sitting city council and mayor respond to your inquiries in a timely manner?
  2. 2. How helpful and or responsive do you find the city manager and his staff?
  3. 3. Do you find constituent concerns are a focus of our local governmental agenda?

Describe your specific plan for improving the business climate in the 49th Street South district.

At the Save-a-Lot shopping center location, advocate and/or incentivize the planting of trees throughout that parking lot. Promote and/or incentivize the owners or every property on 49th Street to paint each property from a color palette popular and reminiscent of the 1950s or 1960s. Working with St. Pete to do the same. Planting trees lining the street – constructing a medium strip down the center of 49th from 23rd Avenue to the Pinellas Trail with trees placed in the medium strip. These changes are not only good for aesthetics, but good for the slowing of climate change.

You have focused on government transparency in your campaign. Identify what information is currently not available to the public then describe your specific plan to improve this situation.

  • The weekly email newsletter must contain city council, zoning, and permitting dates and times linking to the respective agenda items.
  • Ensuring all agenda council agenda items are open to public comment, extending public comment time to five minutes.
  • Changing the comment to an exchange of ideas/conversation allowing for the stipulation of facts. A Q&A format, this is a public record, documented exchange. 
  • Allowing constituents to directly converse with their ward representative during council meetings.
  • Democracy requires transparency, which requires a shining light. Appropriate hard news coverage (please refer to Creative Loafing news article, 2/14/19, page 16).
  • “In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power … lie in an enlightened citizenry – in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government. For this reason, it is perhaps here that the press that is alert, aware, and free most vitally serves the basic purpose of the first amendment. For, without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people.” [NYT v. U.S., 403 U.S. 713]

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