The first city council meeting of Black History month, whether intentional or not, carried a lot of discussion on race relations in Gulfport. After Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich began the meeting with a reading about Black historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the floor opened for public comment, and two men approached the dais to air their grievances with the city about what they feel is racial discrimination in Gulfport (see more in Overheards below). After hearing their concerns council moved onto agenda items, passing ordinances and resolutions related to Duke Energy, sewer line improvement, school resource officers and new fencing for the Gulfport Marina, all in quick succession, ending the meeting in about 45 minutes.
Duke Energy Revenue for Gulfport
Gulfport City Council made its second and final vote to renew its agreement with Duke Energy allowing them to use the city’s right of way in exchange for 6% of their revenue, which amounted to $785,000 for Gulfport last year.
Lift Station Loan
Gulfport Council approved a resolution allowing the city manager to take a loan from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for improvements to the local sewer lines, pump upgrades and related electrical systems. The city applied for the $3 million loan last March, and will repay it at a rate of about $150,000 per year starting in 2023, after the upgrades are finished.
“This is the crown to what we’ve been working on, and as we go through the annual budget, we’ll talk about how we’re repaying this,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly, when introducing the resolution, which passed unanimously.
Cops in Schools
The council also unanimously approved a resolution continuing the 30-year-long partnership between Pinellas County Schools and Gulfport Police, which places a resource officer at Boca Ciega High school. In 2010 Gulfport added a second officer, and in 2018 stationed a third officer at Gulfport Elementary after passage of the School Safety Act of 2018 after 17 children and adults were killed in the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida.
This version of the agreement renews the program for three years instead of one, and also includes changes requiring that the police department notify the school board if an officer stationed at a school uses a weapon or has body camera footage that is about to be made public.
Finishing the Marina Fence
Council approved a resolution to allow the city manager to sign off on a $27,765 contract with Smith Fence, Inc. to replace fencing on the south side of the Municipal Marina, as part of an ongoing marina maintenance. The council approved fencing on the north side in 2018 and on the west side in 2019, and now will finish the fence with this contract.
Overheard at Gulfport City Council
“You gonna be a problem tonight Mr. Lee?” – Mayor Sam Henderson, before the meeting began; Jesse Lee had already begun arguing with an audience member about racial discrimination in Gulfport.
“Why don’t you look at Boca Ciega Yacht Club and the number of human rights violations that have been addressed against them? There was an investigation done by the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights, and they determined that Boca Ciega Yacht Club is both anti-semitic and retaliatory.” – Ray Rodriguez, who also claimed the Gulfport Police Department and several members of the city council have refused to provide him with any of the documents he has asked for related to BCYC. Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly, who also serves as the city’s human rights officer, told the Gabber that he has not received any official race-related complaints under the HRO about BCYC. The Pinellas County Office of Human Rights did perform an investigation on behalf of Rodriguez in 2019, but found “insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations of unlawful discrimination.”
“It’s clear that you guys are allowing this racial discrimination to happen here in town, seeing as every time it’s a white person, you don’t see them. I’m a little confused as to how we’ve managed to have God knows how many ice cream trucks here in town, for how many years and not one of you has ever seen it? Not one ticket, not one citation, absolutely nothing!” – Jesse Lee, who had police called on him last October after setting up an ice cream cart during the Tuesday Morning Fresh Market without getting approval from the Gulfport Merchants Chamber of Commerce, which holds the permit for the event. Lee claims the call was racially motivated because he is Latin American.
“Chief Vincent and his staff have been investigating it, and we have no additional information for you at this time.” – City Manager Jim O’Reilly on the incident Monday afternoon, February 3, when shots were fired near the Gulfport Senior Center.
“To all those people that are out there bashing the city about crime because of what happened yesterday… I’ve called Gulfport home for over 60 years and I feel as safe today as I did when I was a kid riding my bike home. I’m really disappointed that people would take advantage of an opportunity like that…and create all kinds of brouhaha about it without getting all the facts.” – Margaret Tober on the reaction to the aforementioned shooting incident.
“We had our booth set up… and it was really amazing because [Officer Mike Sigsbee] sat right next to us, and the kids just flocked to the table, they just loved the guy. I thought that was the PR that we really need for our officers; it was just great that these kids were growing up, they’re real young children in our elementary school, and their exposure to an officer was going to be a very positive one. And I thought that that was worth it in my mind.” – Councilmember Paul Ray on his support for continuing to place police officers in Gulfport schools.
“A gentleman…posted something extremely negative about an article that was written about Christine Brown and her family several years ago… When I see people using race to push their personal agenda and to get ground for their personal gripes, that’s really second only to engagement in discriminatory racism yourself, and I’d really like to see that go away.” – Mayor Sam Henderson, calling out a private citizen for a post on Facebook.
“You got to pay a lot of attention to the way that people campaign to get a job. If you’re willing to throw mud, if you’re willing to cause harm, if you’re willing to disseminate misinformation – if you do that kind of thing trying to get a job, that’s likely the kind of job you’re going to do when you get it.” – Henderson continuing his comments on the Facebook post.
“It sounds to me that you’re implying that her opponent is the one who had anything to do with this, and that’s not true.” – Councilmember April Thanos in response to Henderson’s comments.