The March 16 Gulfport City Council meeting began with swearing in recently re-elected city councilmembers Christine Brown, Ward 2, and Michael Fridovich, Ward 4; Councilmember April Thanos was appointed vice-mayor for the year per the usual ward-to-ward rotation. The meeting proceeded routinely as council discussed new rules for council meetings and appointments to local boards, until Brown, in her closing statement, read a prewritten speech about what she claims were attacks on her family during the recent election by her opponent Mike Bauer. She also asserted that Thanos not only recruited Bauer to run against her, but also recruited one of Fridovich’s recent opponents, and possibly one to unseat Councilmember Paul Ray next year.
Thanos laughed at this remark, causing Brown to pause and say, “You’re laughing?”
“Yes. It’s not true,” Thanos said, before allowing Brown to finish her speech. Thanos denied the accusations, but admitted that she does want to see some change on the makeup of city council. Read the full brief below and watch the full meeting here.
Brown and Thanos Clash at Council
“I’m like Elton John: I’m still standing,” began recently re-elected Councilmember Christine Brown, reading from a prewritten speech during her closing statement at the March 16 council meeting. “I’m standing up for me, for my family, for my city and for my neighbors.”
Brown framed her statement as a response to what she claimed were attacks on her during the recent election, including a piece by Peter Shorsch on his website FloridaPolitics.com, which called Brown’s husband “a racist” and claimed his previous comments “should disqualify [Brown] from ever being elected again.”
“The blogger that wrote the political hit piece about my family is known to do anything for money. Read up on him in the Tampa Bay Times. The paid political hit piece came out just in time for mailout ballots. What a coincidence,” Brown said, before calling out her opponent, Dr. Mike Bauer, directly, claiming that the article originated from his campaign.
“Playing games with people’s lives, this horrific paid-for hit piece, is what drives people to suicide and you did it anyway… Did you intend for somebody to follow my husband around and take pictures of him? Because that’s happening. Did you intend for somebody to be quoted saying ‘let’s go over to their house’? That same person planned to confront my husband and his son,” she continued.
The Gabber reached out to Brown on Wednesday, March 17 about her comments. When asked if she had any evidence to back her assertions at council, Brown said she had no documents supporting the claim that Bauer had paid for the piece.
At the meeting, Brown later pivoted to target the person across the stage, Ward 1 representative April Thanos, claiming she “used city resources to share this… paid political hit piece through [her] city email account with constituents with the express reason to destroy me and my family.
“I gave you a ride home from the tree planting. For the love of God, were you stabbing my husband in the back on the way?” Brown added.
Thanos mostly waited until Brown finished her full statement before rebutting.
“Christine, I did not use city email. I BCC’ed things that I sent from my own email to the city, because Sam had made so many nasty comments on his rant that I was responding, and I sent it to Andy [Salzman, Gulfport’s city attorney] and to others so that the city would have a record of it. But I did not send those from my city email.”
Mayor Sam Henderson interjected, saying, “You’ve never seen me rant,” and laughed before allowing Thanos to continue.
On Wednesday, March 17, the Gabber looked at the emails in question and found no instance of Thanos improperly using her city email address to share the article.
In her speech, Brown also claimed Thanos “recruited Dr. Bauer to push her policies… recruited somebody to run against Fridovich,” and, “I’m told she already has somebody to run against Councilmember Ray,” before adding, “She has already discussed outsourcing sanitation. Is defunding the police next?”
On Wednesday, Brown told the Gabber that “[Thanos] told me in the council chamber, off the record” that Thanos had recruited Bauer to run against her. The Gabber followed up with Thanos about this on Wednesday, and the councilmember admitted that this was true.
In her rebuttal at council, however, Thanos said, “I have not asked anybody to run against Paul Ray.”
“That’s not what I was told,” Ray responded.
The mayor interrupted, saying to Thanos, “You also haven’t done anything to stop it.”
“I haven’t done anything period about his election!” Thanos responded. “It’s a year away… sometimes people are telling you guys stuff that isn’t true, and you’re just accepting that it is because I often have different opinions about things or different priorities. And I’m not trying to defund the police.”
On Wednesday, March 17, the Gabber asked Ray who had told him Thanos allegedly found someone to run against him in the 2022 race for Gulfport City Council Ward 3 election. He said it was not one person, “but six” who had told him Thanos was recruiting opposition against him, but he would not reveal their names.
“I don’t want to throw someone under the bus like that,” he said.
At council, Thanos denied Brown’s accusation that she was working behind the scenes to undermine her fellow councilmembers, but said, “Yes, I would like people to change on this council because I think that things aren’t being addressed, and that’s a democratic thing to do!”
“You don’t do it by destroying family,” Brown said.
“I did not try to destroy your family,” Thanos said. “I didn’t share anything to destroy your family. You sat for that article, you let it be published, you let it be quoted. What the blogger did with it has nothing to do with me.”
Henderson sided with Brown, later telling Thanos that “in the time you’ve been up here, you never once operated from the standpoint of learning what’s already happening for the people that you work with. It’s always been about what you want to do.”
New Council Rules Proposed
Council discussed a new set of rules and policies for city council, in and out of meetings. According to the proposed changes, councilmembers will be forbidden from promoting any political candidate during a meeting. While this has been a general guideline at the council, Thanos requested it be made official.
The other potential change would require that when a councilmember makes a request for information, the city manager must provide copies of that information to all other councilmembers. If the time needed for city staff to prepare the information exceeds two hours, two other councilmembers must approve the request.
Council will vote on these measures at a later date.
Council discussed the reappointment of several municipal board members whose terms are expiring. Joe Szemer, Lisa Julian and Kelly Wright have been nominated to retain their spots on the Board of Adjustment for two more years, as have Robert Craig, Jeri Reed and Suzanne Szul on the Planning and Zoning Board. Council plans to retain Biff Lagan in his spot on the Police Pension Board for four more years. Thanos made note that Dianne Griffith will be moving away and therefore resigning her position on the Planning and Zoning Board, and that she will make a nomination for replacement soon.
Council Rejects Dock Extension Appeal
Joni McGurk spoke before the council appealing a decision by the Board of Adjustment that denied her request to build a floating dock alongside an existing standing dock. After nearly 30 minutes of deliberation, council voted to reject the appeal.
“One of the hardships for this, if I can speak for us as a council, is that it’s not our job to rehear and determine whether we disagree with the board,” Henderson said. “It’s our job to determine if the board did their job correctly, which ends up disappointing people on a regular basis.”
Council then discussed the possibility of changing the appeals process so that BOA appeals are heard by a circuit court instead of city council.
Overheard at the March 16 Gulfport City Council meeting:
“In traveling up and down the coast, I have yet to find a city where I can’t use a bathroom when I need a bathroom, and for our Casino bathrooms to open at whatever it is, 8 or 7, I’ve not found that to be true. Whenever I need it, it’s always closed. It means I have to go to St. Pete Beach to do my walks because they have bathrooms open.” – Karen Love, asking for public bathrooms to be opened earlier and kept open later.
“A couple years ago, the code enforcement department took a case before the special magistrate regarding a derelict RV on 30th Avenue, and to my knowledge that RV is still there and it’s just racking up fines. I think it’s up to $182,000 now….The order by the special magistrate says the city has the right to remove that RV, and inasmuch as the city has removed derelict vessels, I wonder why they can’t remove this derelict RV.” – Margaret Tober during public comment.
“The first thing we did as a parish almost four years ago was indicate to our diocese and to Catholic Charities that we have vacant land and we wanted to rehabilitate part of our vacant school building… This vision included the goal of providing safe and affordable apartments serving all residents in the Gulfport community… We have decided to take the next step to achieve this goal and are intending to build a new 59-unit building on church property. In addition, the plan includes transforming the traditional school building into an additional 16-units for a total of 75 new affordable apartments serving our fixed-income elderly residents.” – Pat Sullivan, Parish Manager at Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church
“Regarding the funds being made available to the city through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, according to all the information we’ve received, the city will be a recipient of $5,186,383.” – City Manager Jim O’Reilly, discussing incoming federal stimulus money. Guidelines for what the funds can and cannot be used for have yet to be determined.