Ward Three Candidates at League of Women Voters Debate

On March 11, Gulfport voters citywide will decide who has earned the right to represent ward three on city council over the next two years.

Last Tuesday night, Ward Three Council candidates met at Gulfport council chambers to answer questions at the League of Women Voters debate. Below we’ve showcased some snippets from some of the issues raised. As always, we encourage voters citywide to use this synopsis as a guide for asking each candidate more in-depth questions rather than the final word on how to cast their vote: please watch the full debate (click here for a link to the full video) and speak with the candidates before making a voting decision.

Below find some of the highlights of what the candidates told voters at the debate:

About their top priorities:
Yolanda Roman (YR): Senior Services, senior programs; alleys.
Paul Ray (PR): 49th Street “cleaning it up, getting more businesses, cutting down on crime”, Clam Bayou cleanup, and sewer and stormwater issues.
About the 49th Street corridor:
PR: “Blight-looking…I know there’s great businesses… some cleaning up of that street… woman at Neptune was mugged [on 49th]…we had a shooting at 15th and 49th.” (Editor’s note: the shooting took place on the St. Petersburg side of 49th Street and Gulfport Police have no record of a woman getting mugged in the past three months and only two robberies on 49th Street in that same period, one of which was a shoplifter resisting a shopkeeper).
YR: “We do pay attention to 49th… instead of calling it a blight, let’s work with So49, let’s work with the community, let’s work with the businesses… to make it better.”

About Gulfport’s environmental issues:
YR: Clam Bayou [is a] shared responsibility with State, St. Petersburg, citizens… She raised city council, said should the city should take existing data and send it to an independent source.
PR: 2009 was the “last real comprehensive study on Clam Bayou”… Said water sample is not an accurate reading of “how polluted” Clam Bayou is. Said the city needed to “demonstrate need for dredging.”

Support sewer plan?
PR: Yes. Supports state revolving fund and that he believed “we’re still looking into Con Edison as well”. (Editor’s note: public records and the city manager agree that council dismissed Con Edison as an option when it opted to pursue the state’s revolving loan.)
YR: Yes.

Abandoned homes?
YR: Pointed to city analysis of 40-50 homes unoccupied “does not mean they’re abandoned”; said city needs to see if they’re abandoned.
PR: “I think the number was a little higher than 40 or 50” but said city cannot foreclose on a home, but “it would be the optimal avenue”.
(Editor’s note: City Manager Jim O’Reilly told the Gabber the city has an estimated 40 unoccupied home and stressed that all unoccupied homes are not abandoned.)

Race relations in Gulfport?
PR: “Not quite as nice as somebody would like… inclusive of straights, gays and lesbians… I see people on the beaches and it’s very diverse… I’ve been in Ward Four and there were people who were stunned to see me and I was stunned that they were stunned.”
YR: “How can we be more inclusive… to recognize cultures?” Said Gulfport could do a better job but did not “see that we have a race issue.”

Marina development?
YR: Marina is one of Gulfport’s “key priorities” … “high-revenue generating for the city” but called lodging a “complicated, sensitive issue” and said the city had no plans for a hotel.
PR: “I have a lot of hope for the marina and I will eventually be putting a boat in there… [the city is] starting [to implement] master plan next year.” Said city had plans for a hotel.
YR: “I have not seen plans for a hotel.”
PR: “It was part of a proposal by Miss Brown… that had come up… and I think that is going to become part of the marina master plan that will be coming up next year.”
(Editor’s note: Councilwoman Brown did broach the subject of a hotel at a 2013 council meeting, council has not yet voted on whether or not to proceed with plans for a hotel. At this time, there is no recorded council action directing staff to build a hotel or to pursue finding a third party to build or operate any sort of lodging.)

Any possibility for citywide Internet access?
PR: Does not recommend citywide wi-fi.
YR: “If consumers are looking for it, the city should look into it.”

Homeless shelter?
YR: Said she would want a study defining a homeless problem. “I haven’t seen that, I don’t know what that problem looks like.” She advocated “due diligence” before exploring solutions. Called a homeless shelter “jumping the gun.”
PR: Said, yes, there is a problem. “I watched two people walk by who were homeless… we also had Mr. [Lawrence] Burke… who submitted the plans for a homeless shelter on 49th Street.”
YR: “I would not automatically look at a van and say ‘they are homeless’.”
PR: Said woman at the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center told him homeless people would come to shelter and get cans of food.

Level of involvement in Gulfport over past few years?
PR: I have not been involved in a lot of the things in Gulfport itself. Said he had been involved with Lap of Love, the Children’s Center, supports public radio, donates to Toys for Tots, and builds a lemonade stand ever year to raise money for children’s cancer [research].
YR: “Very functionally involved… home on tour of homes, trash cleanup events… advocated about domestic partnership registry.”

Single stream recycling?
YR: “Will require outsourcing… we have recycling programs… not in support of anything that will outsource our city services.”
PR: “I am totally in support of single stream.” Said the city could work with St. Petersburg Commissioner Darden Rice, who is implementing this in St. Petersburg.
YR: “We will impact our budget negatively.”
PR: “It has no impact on us financially at all… it would be exactly the same thing.”
(Editor’s Note: Gulfport Public Works Director Don Sopak confirms that single stream recycling would represent a large loss of revenue for the city’s recycling program; please see the January 30 City Whys for Mr. Sopak’s figures).

Brownfields?
PR: “We have applied as a city… but we have not had anyone come forward and apply to use these funds.”
YR: “Do your research… we have been approved.”

How can Gulfport attract new businesses?
PR: “49th Street has a lot of opportunity for businesses.” Suggested chains such as “Dollar Stores”.
YR: “We have a lot of good businesses coming into town… we don’t like chain stores, I get it, but we do have those in our town.”

How do you feel about getting our homes reclaimed water for the yards?
PR: “There are better alternatives… if you’re reclaiming that water you’re deducting it from the aquifer… it’s not as useful as we think it would be.” Said he uses rain barrels. (Editor’s Note: National, state, and local agencies, including Pinellas County the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, say the opposite.)
YR: “I’m not for anything that’s going to take a lot of utilization and city services.” Said she would look it up after learning more and potentially post her response on her site.
(Editor’s note: According to City Manager O’Reilly and data from the county, Gulfport cannot get reclaimed water. It takes, according to Pinellas County, four households to produce enough reclaimable water for one home; only 25% of homes can ever receive reclaimed water.)

Solar panels on city property?
YR: “I need to understand where the benefits are, where it’s done… we have to be careful how we utilize our budget.” Said she would not commit without knowing “ultimate impact” and that the initiative should be, at a minimum, cost-neutral.
PR: “I designed my own system… need to look at cost versus revenue.”

Parking problem downtown?
PR: “It is a big issue… would like to see golf carts.”
YR: Suggested a “trolley that can loop.”
(Editor’s note: the city already has a trolley that loops at special events.)

Should we revisit PACE?
YR: Expressed support for the program.
PR: Said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don’t support the program but they “will probably be bankrupt in a year or two, so we won’t have to worry about it.”

Don't be shy. Tell us what you think.