Life on the Southside: No Complaints

I grew up in Clearwater. I only got to know the south end of Pinellas County when I moved here 11 years ago. Finding Gulfport was delightful, and I’ve belabored that point so often I hesitate to mention it again. Better still was discovering what life was like south of Tyrone Square Mall. Traffic clears out, the people smile more and, all told, it’s just a nicer place to live.

Y’all know me; I don’t like to complain. And I certainly have no complaints about the way Pinellas County treats us here on the south side.

If I had one overarching complaint about life south of Tyrone, which I clearly do not, it would be that living in a city in the south end of Pinellas County means you really understand the unfairness of the whole “separate but equal” thing, because – as so many discovered not that long ago – separate can never be equal. Now, I’m not one to accuse, but I have heard from a few people that Pinellas County appears to cater to Clearwater, Largo, and every resident north of St. Petersburg while quietly yet steadfastly ignoring services for those of us living an otherwise delightful existence down here on the south side. I’m glad I don’t have that complaint.

Oh, sure, the county – with no notification – decided to stop holding mobile chemical and electronic collections anywhere south of 22nd Avenue North. Even though one-third of the county’s taxpayers live in St. Petersburg (not to mention those of us in fringe cities), the county – without telling anyone, including staff at the cities impacted by this decision – decided we didn’t deserve the same services as its north side residents and stopped scheduling chemical and electronics collections anywhere in south Pinellas. After all, we can drive our hazardous waste to north St. Pete if we really want to obey laws saying we can’t throw our chemicals in the trash.

It appears the collections held in Gulfport didn’t meet an unstated goal of 500 participants, and the ones in south St. Pete weren’t up to snuff, either. Neither city knew they were falling short of the goals. You can read about how quickly Mayors Kriseman and Henderson have sent “Oh, hell no” letters elsewhere in this week’s paper. As for my opinion, I have, as I said, no complaints.

I certainly don’t believe Pinellas County acted unethically. Even though they didn’t tell either city they were falling short, or that they were about to pull the collections from areas historically underserved by the county, I’m sure they had their reasons. And it certainly is not my opinion they did anything wrong by letting both cities fail some test neither knew it was taking, even if, for the entirety of my tenure working at Pinellas County (which, funnily enough, included promoting the mobile collections), I never heard a peep about goals or participation.

Since I’m not complaining, I would be remiss, too, in drawing any conclusions about how services are being ceased only in and adjacent to the poorest minority communities in the county. I would also be totally, wholly, and completely wrong to talk about institutionalized racism, because we all know that no longer exists in Florida. It would also be wrong to suggest Pinellas County commissioners have little use for the residents on the south side unless it’s election time, or that since the much-maligned Commissioner Norm Roche is the only one who answers emails, he’s the only one who actually cares about all the voters.

Unnecessary, too, would it be for me to suggest people start looking around at what other services our north Pinellas counterparts get, because I’m certain there aren’t any. And it would be downright excessive of me to suggest people email our geographically elected representatives Charlie Justice (CJustice@pinellascounty.org) and Ken Welch (KWelch@PinellasCounty.org) and the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners chairperson, Karen Seel (KSeel@PinellasCounty.org), and call them on what is most certainly not a smack in the face to the cities on the south side as well as a shameful way of denying services offered to everyone but the poorest communities (who may or may not vote regularly in county elections). And of course I won’t suggest you read this column online to look for the links to email these leaders directly to express your outrage and disgust with their continued and sustained disdain for treating everyone in the south side like second-class citizens.

Because, as I said, I love life on the south side. I have no complaints.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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