With Gulfport’s municipal elections less than two weeks away, the Gabber asked each of the four candidates questions specific to their campaign. Due to space limitations, we did not print all of the Q&As in this print issue. However, all the questions and responses for each candidate have been included here.
Early voting begins March 5, and election day is March 15. You can find a list of local polling places and more elections information at mygulfport.us/gulfport-municipal-election-information.
Barbara Banno (bannoforgulfport.com)
Q: You have called the August sewage dumping by the city of St. Petersburg your “greatest motivation” in running for mayor and vowed to address “clean up and long-term impact.” In December 2015, the city of St. Petersburg released their study finding that there are no longer signs of human waste in the water, and the sewage dumping “likely” caused no long-term damage to Clam Bayou. With that in mind, and given the city of St. Petersburg’s unwillingness to make promises about future rain events, what is your specific plan for Clam Bayou?
As mayor, I will create a Clam Bayou cleanup plan, which will consist of input from the Gulfport community, city staff and the Gulfport city manager. I will seek the advice of local environmental experts and will reach out to other municipalities that have experienced similar disasters. Most importantly, I will collaborate with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to consider implementing a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) for Clam Bayou – a “blueprint” for restoring impaired waters. A BMAP consists of a comprehensive set of strategies designed for reducing water pollutants. The BMAP consists of broad-based plans that are developed with local input, would be specifically designed for the contaminated waters in Gulfport, and includes financial assistance from the state. Another resource available to the city of Gulfport is the Tampa Bay Area Estuary Program.
Q: You have said that, if elected mayor, you “will work hard to make sure we are fiscally smart and conservative.” According to public records, in the last five years, you’ve filed for bankruptcy, had a home foreclosed upon and a car repossessed. Your house in Gulfport has been in the process of foreclosure since 2012. Why should the voters trust you to be “fiscally smart” for the city of Gulfport?
At my event on January 29, I shared that I experienced some of the same financial difficulties many others experienced during the worst economic times since the Great Depression. I want you to know that I have worked very hard to pick up the pieces, working with my financial institution to keep my home, modify my mortgage and resolve my financial obligations.
For the two years that I served as a city councilmember, I was hands-on and integral to process that maintained a balanced budget and kept Gulfport debt-free, even though we were experiencing a significant reduction in city revenues. I am also very proud to have started a business during this time that today is very successful. It is only through smart fiscal decisions that I maintain a robust business payroll for 19 staff members, regularly paying sales and employment taxes.
Q: One of your campaign platforms is “more aggressively fixing our aging sewers, street repairs and alleyways.” Since 2015 the city has allocated over half a million dollars to repaving projects, and committed to a total of $5 million for sewer repair over the next seven years. What further measures do you propose?
I am proud to have served on city council when we voted for the state revolving loan program. It is important to understand that the sewer repairs underway are the most urgent (Phase 1) priorities. Since this is a multi-year project, I will not only advise on the current work, but will ensure we have a strict timeline and action plan to see this work through the additional phases.
This is an aging city. As such, you need a mayor that will keep focused on other aging infrastructure, as well as new opportunities to keep Gulfport fully functioning. The following are some areas in which we need to develop short and long term plans: aging water pipes (we continue to see nearby cities experiencing water main breaks), flood mitigation plans, solar power, mooring field, city building upgrades, parking and a safe swimming beach.
Q: You have promised to “diligently pursue – and make better use of – new streams of revenue, including grant sources that have previously been left untapped.” How so? What grants do you think the city should have perused that they have not?
I have done extensive research on state and local grant opportunities available to municipalities. I am very excited to see the many grant opportunities that we can potentially assess for Gulfport funding opportunities. Here are just a “few” currently available grants: DEP – Clean Vessel Act Grant Program, Florida Coastal Management Program Grants, Innovative Recycling Grants, Recreation Development Assistance Program; Cultural Facilities Program, Resources for Public Art Programs, Urban Design, Town Planning and Redevelopment Initiatives, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Flood Plain Management Services Program. I now have these and many other resources ready to bring forth to city council and the city manager.
Final thoughts in 100 words or less:
I am asking for your vote: You deserve to get the information and facts you need to make your decision on whom to vote for. I encourage you to call me and have an invigorated discussion on the issues important to you. I will listen, share and be transparent. I am qualified, committed and prepared to be mayor of the city of Gulfport. I will work hard to keep us vibrant, keeping our small town feeling. This is a great city and I am ready and will be proud to serve as mayor.
Sam Henderson (sam4gulfport.com)
Q: There has been talk in this campaign about transparency. Your opponent has cited the dwindling of workshops as evidence of a lack of transparency during your term. Do you think public workshops are important to the political process? If so, why have there been fewer in recent years?
In terms of sharing information with the public, we are actually more transparent than ever. We have improved how we share information on our website, created a city Facebook page and we exceed state requirements for public comment at all city council meetings. In addition to exceeding legal requirements for public comment on ordinances, we take open public comment on non-agenda items, public comment on resolutions and even on some discussion items that have generated public interest. We have fewer meetings that are specifically workshops because we have become a more efficient council. We incorporate workshop items into our regular council meetings as opposed to scheduling additional stand alone meetings. More meetings does not necessarily equal more transparency.
Q: There has been some criticism during your term about your temperament on the dais. After a contentious exchange with the vice mayor at the February 16 council meeting, a few residents even called you a bully. What is your perspective on leadership at public meetings and why do you think you’re the right person to run them?
If you look at my seven years on council and the roughly two hundred meetings I’ve participated in, I’ve generally stayed calm during many intense and contentious moments. I have a thick skin, but it is my job to listen. That being said, I am still human and I may get fired up on rare occasions. The exchange with the Vice Mayor was such an occasion, and I admit I could have behaved more professionally. I am passionate about our commitment to truth and honesty on council, and when falsehoods are put forward it is my duty to challenge such statements. Being assertive, making sure our message reflects accurate information and not buckling under pressure is a strength. I run a tight meeting because it is my job to do so, just as it is all of our jobs to maintain a consistent level of decorum at these meetings. As a public servant, I owe it to my constituents and peers to manage meetings in a consistent and efficient manner.
Q: When asked about the bike trail at the League of Women Voters candidate forum, you said, “We learn from our mistakes.” What mistakes do you think you made regarding the bike trail planning process? What other mistakes do you think you’ve made over the course of your term as mayor?
In terms of procedure, we handled everything by the book. We voted on council to move forward with the bike trail grant application, submitted a draft proposal to the state, secured grant funding and hosted a town hall meeting to take public comment on the proposal. In retrospect, we could have expanded the notification process for the meeting had we known prior to the town hall event that there would be so much public interest. The trail plan had generated very little comment in the years leading up to the actual proposal. Nonetheless, we heard the public outcry at this meeting and scaled back the plan in response. I am confident that we will be able to generate a plan going forward that will be much more pleasing to people overall. As far as other mistakes? I’m not perfect, so here is an example. Years ago, I voted against the site plan for Smokin’ J’s Barbecue and he’s turned out to be a fine business owner. I’ve since apologized to him for that.
Q: In December 2015, the city of St. Petersburg released a study finding that there are no longer signs of human waste in Clam Bayou, and the sewage dumping “likely” caused no long-term damage to the preserve. With that in mind, and given the city of St. Petersburg’s unwillingness to make promises about future rain events, what is your plan for Clam Bayou going forward?
The most valuable thing we have learned from the August 2015 sewage discharge from St. Petersburg is the unpleasant but necessary understanding of our vulnerability in the realm of water management. Over the last six months, I have met with Mayor Kriseman on multiple occasions and council has advocated on our behalf with local and state entities. We are working diligently to solve a complex long-term problem, and for that there is no fast or easy answer. Here is what needs to happen: 1) Gulfport and St. Petersburg reach a binding agreement in terms of how we handle sewage in the face of extreme weather, how we communicate in emergencies and how we plan ahead for such catastrophes through commitment to infrastructure upgrades. 2) We continue to work with state agencies such as the DEP and accredited environmental experts to establish the causes of our water quality issues, and 3) establish mitigation strategies that over time reduce the amount of harmful bacteria entering our public waters through sewage and storm water channels.
Final thoughts in 100 words or less:
One thing we all seem to agree on is that Gulfport is a wonderful place. It is my home. My wife and I brought our family here 10 years ago, and we watched our daughter grow from a third grader at Gulfport Elementary to a freshman at SPC. For seven of those years I have served on City Council to make sure that Gulfport remains Gulfport. I have invested my time, resources and energy to insure that Gulfport is a place that she will always want to be. My hope is that in some small measure my work has helped to keep Gulfport a place that you will always want to call home. Cheers to Gulfport.
Dan Liedtke (gulfportspirit.com)
Q: You have represented Ward 1 for four years. How do think the needs and issues for Ward 1 residents differ from other areas of Gulfport? What have you done to improve the lives of residents in your ward?
I hear a lot from Ward 1 residents about property taxes. Ward 1 accounts for about 60% of all property tax revenue in Gulfport. As a steward of public funds I have watched our cities spending carefully and looked for ways to increase revenues without putting the burden on the taxpayer.
We are always looking for methods to increase revenues from city assets. Currently, we are expanding the marina, recreational programs and we are working to improve the efficiency of our infrastructure including water systems. Most importantly, we have maintained all services including police and fire while keeping the same property tax rate for the last four years.
We have also made some quality infrastructure improvements in Ward 1. This includes new street lighting on Premier Drive and Nautical LED pathway lighting for Wood Ibis Park (coming this year). With the help of state grant funds, the city also completed a major culvert replacement project that channels storm water from Gulfport Boulevard through PYCC.
Q: You’ve publicized that for this campaign you have an overall fundraising goal of $3,002, and anything over that amount you will donate to charity. Some voters may find that admirable, but have you considered that such fundraising limits might be detrimental to your campaign? How serious are you about winning this election?
We are 100% dedicated to winning this election. We believe there are better ways to spend our time than asking a lot of people for money. All of our campaign contributions have been unsolicited and non-partisan. Those contributions have also been wisely and efficiently invested.
There are many ways to save money in political campaigns. It just takes more work on the candidate’s part. For example, I built my website (GulfportSpirit.com) for $80 while our opponent spent 10 times that. We are also not spending thousands on sketchy out-of-town partisan consultants to manage our campaign or contracting with out-of-town partisan persuasion mail firms to handle our publications.
We are managing all aspects of our campaign. We organized all events. We dusted off our yard signs from 4 years ago and handled the deliveries. We designed all our own material and Michelle helped me label and stamp the campaign mailers. It is all just part of what makes campaigning fun.
Finally, we trust our record of progress is worth more than any campaign donation or promise.
Q: The volleyball courts on Gulfport Beach have been a favorite project of yours. You have also admitted that the courts are a large contributor to parking issues downtown. Does the city of Gulfport need more volleyball courts?
We should always be looking for opportunities to expand recreational activities whether it is volleyball courts, tennis courts, a soccer field or something else. The volleyball courts on Gulfport Beach are a favorite project of mine as it was my wife Michelle’s idea. She introduced me to the sport.
Since adding two courts four years ago, our beachfront has only grown in popularity and use. In addition to the legendary “Pro Suzy” Sunday volleyball group that started 20 years ago, we now have leagues two nights a week. There are also professional training academies with former and current touring pros. Several local junior colleges have used our courts for competitions. An AVP qualifier for the St Pete Open was held in Gulfport. This year we celebrate the 5th Annual VETSports Gulfport Open. Finally, The Tampa Bay Beach Bums monthly charity tournaments have grown to become the largest monthly co-ed beach volleyball tournaments in the State of Florida.
Thanks to the hard work of city staff we truly have the finest beach volleyball courts in Pinellas County, and the city has generated thousands from court rentals. If we want to generate more revenue for the city while providing expanded recreation opportunities for a sport that is only growing in popularity, then this is the perfect time to look at options for court expansion.
Final thoughts in 100 words or less:
The biggest goals for the next two years include putting the plans in motion for a new modern Gulfport Senior Center, the replenishment of Gulfport Beach, a continued focus on options for cleaner waterways Clam Bayou, lower taxes, and working to keep the business environment open, friendly and thriving. Please, Vote Dan Liedtke!
April Thanos (aprilthanos.com)
Q: As the candidate with the least amount of local political experience, what makes you a better choice for voters? In your opinion, what special issues affect residents of Ward 1?
I’m the best choice for voters because I have the experience working with businesses and neighborhoods to help make Gulfport an even better place to live and work. Before I retired, I worked for the largest LGBT chamber of commerce in the United States promoting local businesses. I was also on the board of my neighborhood council for 10 years and worked on issues like zoning and parking. Since moving to Gulfport, I’ve been very involved in the community. I’ll apply my experiences to what’s going on in our city and contribute to an improved business climate and greater transparency and responsiveness in our government.
Q: During the course of the campaign, you have been critical of the Republican Party. Do you think such criticism is relevant in a non-partisan election? Will party politics be a factor for you on council?
I’ve only criticized the most radical members of the Republican Party who work to deny rights to our LGBT friends and neighbors and stand in the way of regional cooperation. It’s important to keep these actions in mind when we cast our ballots. When I’m on council, I’ll work hard to make sure Gulfport remains inclusive and welcoming of everyone and collaborate with other cities in our area to make life better for everyone, regardless of party affiliation.
Q: You have said you would like to “prioritize public safety.” What does that mean and what are your specific plans to accomplish this?
To me, prioritizing public safety means giving police officers the resources they need to do their job effectively. Public safety also means working to fix other issues that contribute to crime, such as providing more support to our schools, filling our empty storefronts on 49th Street and Gulfport Boulevard, and creating jobs that pay a living wage. Finally, we need to continue to include as many residents as possible in these discussions regarding public safety to make sure we’re addressing the different needs residents have in different parts of the city.
Final thoughts in 100 words or less:
I ask Gulfport residents for their vote, either by mail or at the polls on March 15. Ward 1 needs a representative that’ll work for everyone and work hard to make sure Gulfport remains an inclusive and welcoming place for everyone. When I’m elected, I will be that representative. Thank you.