Gulfport City Council faced some tough decisions on Tuesday night, one of which involved how councilmembers conduct themselves during meetings.
“I’m going to vote ‘no’ but I’ll abide by the rules and regulations,” said Ward 3 Councilmember Yolanda Roman prior to the vote which decided how long a councilmember has to present council/informational reports at the end of each regular council meeting.
The idea for the time limit came from Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich, who claims he originally presented the idea four years ago.
Fridovich said the idea is to “streamline the process so it doesn’t carry on.”
The discussion spilled over to public comment throughout the meeting with much of the audience on the side of Roman, who is against limiting the time a councilmember can present. Comments ranged from calling the suggestion of “censorship” to full-on discussions with council.
“I am most definitely suggesting that council sets standards for themselves where the public is not subjected to demeaning, disrespectful, offensive and discriminatory terms,” Gulfport resident Gerry O’Reagan said during public comment.
But one discussion, which turned personal, was led by Gulfport resident Chuck Broich.
Broich mentioned a letter last council meeting describing an encounter with the mayor, alleging that Mayor Sam Henderson told him “you must be off your meds,” which was also mentioned in O’Reagan’s public comment only minutes prior.
Broich confronted not just the mayor, but accused Councilmember Dan Liedtke of “attacking Bob Newcomb”at Town Shores. Henderson would not allow him to accuse council, but allowed him to finish his public comment. Broich took his remaining minutes to voice his displeasure and attacked councilmembers Christine Brown and Michael Fridovich, claiming they are no better than bullies because they “sit there and do nothing.” Broich also accused council of “collusion” and said, “I observe in the chambers the four of you constantly attacking Councilman Roman from doing her job.”
Both Broich and O’Reagan argued the new rule will hinder the freedom of speech, but Fridovich and Henderson argue that the rule will be put in place to keep time restraints on meetings.
“My goal is to keep things running smoothly,” Henderson said. If we all have to abide by the same set of rules, I don’t see anything prejudicial here.”
Resident Jan Lowe asked council to conduct public workshops, which she says could help keep council meetings shorter.
“Bring back workshops if you want to shorten your nights at council,” Lowe said.
The rules passed with a 4-1 vote, prompting many opponents to leave in protest.
Financials and… a mooring field?
Before the discussion about time limits, council listened to the annual financial report presented by Chad Whetstone, CPA of the accounting firm Carr, Riggs, and Ingram. Whetstone informed council that both the police and fire department pensions were underfunded by a combined $1.6 million. Despite this, Whetstone stated that Gulfport is the only city in Pinellas with this kind of stability in their plans.
Coincidentally, council soon after passed two unrelated ordinances amending the pension plans for the departments. City Manager Jim O’Reilly said there would be no financial impact and that it was just updating the wording of the ordinances.
Whetstone also informed council that the city still has no long-term debt.
Council made one step closer to a possible mooring field in the future by unanimously voting to allow the city manager to apply for several grants from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
One grant would provide financial assistance for the Gulfport Municipal Marina Pump-Out Systems. According to Harbormaster Denis Frain, the current pumps are “old and patched together.” They were installed in 1995. The second grant would provide financial assistance for a city of Gulfport Pump-Out Vessel.
According to O’Reilly, this will provide an opportunity to expand funding for a mooring field through grants.
“Make the application, see if you’re successful,” O’Reilly said. “I think you would be remiss for not taking the opportunity to apply.”
O’Reilly emphasized that no decision would be made immediately; results regarding the success of the grant application would be available in late July.
Overheard at the May 17, 2016 council meeting:
“Research has been done by the tobacco industry that says people will not walk more than 10 paces to deposit a filter into a receptacle. What’s different about this is there’s a value attached to the action.” – David Westmark of the Blue Turtle Society. Westmark presented council with cigarette butt receptacle designed to incentivize people to properly dispose of their cigarettes. Called “Vote With Your Butt,” the receptacle allows people to “vote” on topics by putting their cigarette butts in the corresponding slot. Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly suggested a trial run of the receptacle on the east side of the Gulfport Casino.
“This time of year, if you put Trump on one side and Bernie or Hillary on the other, you’ll fill that up.” – Mayor Sam Henderson in response.
“Anyone that moves next to a rec center then complains that there may be increased children activity, because of the possibility of a skate park being there, is pretty nonsensical. You would expect to have an increase in activity, I hope, at a rec center. Especially in the summer months, that’s going to happen.” – Gulfport resident Jan Lowe during public comment.
“We anticipate construction to start July 11 and anticipate six to eight weeks with a project this size.” – O’Reilly before council passed a resolution authorizing him to enter into a contract with Enterprise Marine Contractors, Inc. for the repair and reconstruction of observation docks at Clam Bayou Nature Preserve. The project is slated to cost $117,985.
“I ain’t going near this. I like my job.” – O’Reilly said when asked by the mayor if he had any comments on the resolution to pass new council rules and regulations.
“June 20th will be the beginning of the 11th, 15th and 28th Avenue road pavings.” – O’Reilly.
“Vice Mayor Fridovich was there, but he didn’t actively participate.” – Councilmember Christine Brown regarding the public Fire Ops 101 program, which is a one-day event held on May 14 for the publicly elected officials to experience fire operations. This included a real burning building.
“I had a note from my doctor.” – Fridovich, explaining that he has back issues and could not wear all the gear necessary to actively participate.
“I must have had 100 pounds of equipment on me.” – Roman regarding the event.
“A lot of things happening at our library in support of Pride Week, as well as it’s now been confirmed that Gulfport will have the second annual 5k run on June 25.” – Roman, who also suggested to council that the city should fly a Pride flag somewhere in a prominent location. O’Reilly suggested flying it over the library and council agreed.