Gulfport City Council finalized the fiscal year 2020-21 budget and millage rates, while questions remain about Gulfport’s Sustainability Committee during a regularly scheduled meeting on September 15 over Zoom.
City Attorney Andrew Salzman and City Clerk Lesley Demuth were excused from the meeting; Deputy City Clerk Kathy Cook-Tatay sat in for Demuth; Ben Jacobs represented Salzman.
Councilmember April Thanos dropped her fight against the police budget during the Tuesday, September 15, virtual council meeting. Instead, Thanos turned her attention to energy efficient vehicles.
“When we pass this budget, normally if something is in the budget, then it goes to the consent agenda when it’s time to spend the money for it,” stated Thanos. “But, since we didn’t get to see the presentation on electric vehicles for municipal fleets, I would like to request that any vehicles that we are going to approve money in the coming months that they do not go on the consent agenda, because you told me we could have the presentation and then talk about the vehicles.”
“I remember that,” Mayor Sam Henderson responded. “And if you still wanted to have that presentation, you’re still more than welcome to have it.”
After council comments, members voted four to one in favor of the proposed FY 2020-2021 budget.
Council also continued their nine-year streak keeping property taxes at a rate of 4.039.
Questions Raised Again About Thanos’ Gulfport Sustainability Committee
During open public comment residents called in to voice their concerns.
Gulfport Sustainability Committee member Karen Love called in to denounce a statement Councilmember Michael Fridovich made likening the committee to a “shadow government” during the September 3 council meeting.
The Gulfport Sustainability Committee is a resident-run organization founded by Councilmember Thanos with the “broad goal to define actions and options that maintain and improve the economic, environmental, and community atmosphere of the City. Specific goals and objectives will emerge and change as the needs of the city and its citizens are identified,” according to the group’s Facebook page. Thanos has said there are about 50 members of the GSC.
Current “subcommittees” outlined on the group’s Facebook page involve “Accessibility and Recreation, Waste Management, Natural Resources” and “Planning.”
Councilmember Thanos previously asked members of council to look at items on the group’s list and to endorse their own projects. However, Fridovich, as well as Mayor Henderson and Councilmember Christine Brown, expressed concern that the committee appeared to take on issues already addressed by council.
“I’ve tried for years to get folks to attend city council meetings and speak up, with no positive results,” said Love. “Councilwoman Thanos provided the concerned citizens with the opportunity to speak and share what their major concerns, needs and wants .”
Love described the climate of the committee’s meetings: “It was not a complaint session by any means, and at no point was a ‘shadow government’ to take over city council discussed.”
More Trash Talk
When council opened discussion up to residents concerning the budget, resident Margarete Tober wanted to know about the recent musings concerning trash cans offered to the city by the Gulfport Sustainability Committee.
“I was wondering why an organization would need to raise money for a city for trash cans,” asked Tober.
Trash cans have been the most recent focus project of the Gulfport Sustainability Committee; the group says that part of the proceeds from their planned drive-in movie night on September 25 are earmarked for that purpose.
“The garbage cans – some of them we can look at putting at bus stops along Gulfport Boulevard, and maybe even work with some of the owners to get it on private property, just so that people have enough garbage cans,” said Thanos. “Because that’s not a city street, so it’s a bit different than some of the other places we might want to put garbage cans. If we find that we don’t need them, that PSTA or someone else wants to pay for them, then we’ll put the money towards some other good project.”
Events Requests on the Rise in Gulfport
City Manager Jim O’Reilly reported an increase in event requests to start later this month and in October and suggested to council that it may be time to start entertaining approved outdoor events.
“If people act responsibly, I don’t see the issue. We’re going to require masks and social distancing,” said O’Reilly. “I think this is an opportunity as the weather changes and get people outside and hopefully they’ll practice the proper responsibilities and protocols.”
Council also approved Councilmember Paul Ray’s request to block the road known as ”Alley of the Arts” (the alleyway east of Beach Boulevard) out to Beach Boulevard on November 3 for a non-partisan Gulfport Votes 100% event.