At the regular Gulfport City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 20, City Manager Jim O’Reilly proposed a new formulized property usage request form for organizations within the community that lease city facilities. Council had previously requested a more consistent vetting process during the August 6 meeting discussion of the budget.
The proposed request form will require organizations to answer 13 questions concerning their impact and role in the community. These questions are meant to provide more information to the council, allowing members to make more informed, objective decisions concerning lease agreements.
“What role do you play in the community?” asked O’ Reilly. “We do not want to make this about little league versus the yacht club, we want to make this more objective.”
Currently there is a large disparity between how much money each organization pays to lease, and there is little documentation to explain why. One organization pays $1 a year; another pays $19,500 a year.
Mayor Sam Henderson gave credit to O’Reilly on his efforts to formalize the process and keep the city from “just giving away spaces,” and reduce the cost of the resources the city has to expend supporting the groups.
Councilmember Dan Liedtke approved of the new request form. Liedtke suggested ceasing long-term lease agreements, asking for a max of three to five years. Vice Mayor Paul Ray and Councilmember Michael Fridovich were on either end of the lease term agreements, however. Ray stated that three-year leases are far more acceptable, while Fridovich favored five-year agreements.
“I love it,” said Councilmember Christine Brown. “I’m very excited about moving forward and getting things even across the board.”
Comments were abundant from the audience. Attendees wanted to know what would bear more weight in the eyes of the council on community benefit. One resident was concerned that some organizations have a board of directors that do not reside in Gulfport and suggested that 51 percent of the board directors be Gulfport residents. Another suggested that a percentage of the membership should have to be Gulfport residents or business owners, not the board of directors.
No formal decision was made during this discussion. The new form is expected to be put into use in the near future, starting with organizations that have expiring leases.
Board of Adjustment Questioned with Appeal
During the public comment portion of the meeting, George McCormick, agent of Diane Arthur and James Cowan, requested an appeal of the decision of the Board of Adjustment to deny Variance V19-28: to reduce the required separation distance between a principal structure and a detached accessory.
McCormick claimed that the Board of Adjustment has approved grander variances for others without asking to demonstrate a hardship as he was requested to do.
Mayor Sam Henderson explained to McCormick that the council’s job was not to rehear and overturn a decision made by the Board of Adjustment due to a difference of opinion, but to verify if there was enough evidence that the board made a legitimate mistake or did not follow procedure.
The council unanimously voted to uphold the Board of Adjustment’s decision to deny Variance V19-28.
Gulfport Neighbors Donates $1,500 to City
For almost 30 years Gulfport Police Department (GPD) has sponsored Operation Santa. Employees collect and deliver toys, gift cards and other donations to Gulfport families in need throughout the season leading up to Christmas.
Community organization Gulfport Neighbors in the past has helped the GPD collect donations for Operation Santa during Gulfport’s Holiday Hoopla. Due to scheduling differences this year, Gulfport Neighbors decided to donate early and challenge other community organizations and businesses to do the same.
Gulfport Neighbors is a nonprofit, volunteer network. Their mission is to “inspire, motivate and unite our neighbors in order to improve the quality of life in Gulfport, Florida.”
On behalf of the Gulfport Neighbors board, Margarete Tober presented the monetary donation to Gulfport Police Commander Mary Farrand at the November 19 meeting.