Gulfport is readying itself for the election of mayor and two councilmembers. Gulfport mayors serve three-year terms; councilmembers serve two-year terms. The city-wide elections will be held Tuesday, March 12, 2019.
Via email, the Gabber asked each candidate the same questions for this introduction, but will feature a more specific follow-up as we get closer to the election. Responses have been edited for style and grammar. View filing records by clicking on the link below each candidates’ name.
Have a question for the candidates?
The Gabber wants to hear from you! Please email your questions to Publisher@theGabber.com, with subject line “Election.” We will chose from your questions in our follow-up Q&A.
What makes you uniquely qualified to serve as mayor for the city of Gulfport, Florida?
How long you have lived in Gulfport.
Sam Henderson, Incumbent: I have lived in Gulfport with my wife and daughter since 2006. For 10 challenging but rewarding years I have served Gulfport as Ward 4 Councilmember and subsequently two terms as mayor. During that time I helped guide our city through tough times after the 2008 economic crisis, and the lessons we learned then have made us a stronger city. In the past six years, we have taken advantage of extensive outside funding to set Gulfport up for long-term success. I know this city, and I want to keep protecting and improving it as your mayor.
Frank Joseph Kemnetz: When elected, I will bring to the mayor’s office: A broad perspective, having lived and worked in several states and overseas. The knowledge of a retired executive with experience in engineering, operations, marketing, business development and strategic planning. Policy-making expertise: served as school board chairman, board member of business groups, board member of non-profit organizations, president of Florida Suncoast Chorus, president of neighborhood association.
A high standard of ethics, integrity and transparency. My wife and I chose Gulfport because we love this city! Year-round residents for five years, we hope to live here the rest of our lives.
What are the top three issues facing the city of Gulfport? Explain why each issue is key and provide specifics on how you believe it can be addressed.
Henderson: Infrastructure improvements and upgrades: We have been heavily engaged in repairing and replacing our aging sewer system. This work needs to continue for the welfare of the public, protection of our coastal environment and for long-term economic benefit. We have also accelerated street, alley and sidewalk improvements and had great success convincing the county to resurface Gulfport Boulevard. Since 2017 we have reduced by roughly 8000 lbs. annually the amount of contaminants entering our waterways through innovative storm drain projects. Additionally, at no cost to the city, we were able to replace the vast majority of our city streetlights with high efficiency LED bulbs, which last longer and are more ecologically friendly. All of this work needs to continue. In terms of securing funding for such projects, we have to strike while the iron is hot.
Emergency Services and Public Safety: We have worked hard to keep our police and fire departments. While many cities our size did not survive the 2008 recession with emergency services intact, we did. Having these services in-house gives us a level of autonomy, accountability and community knowledge that cannot be matched by outside contracts. The responsiveness and high level of commitment of these individuals, and our public works department, is a key component to keeping our residents, businesses and visitors safe.
Level of Municipal Services: Gulfport provides big city amenities in a small-town environment. We have invested heavily in our Library, Marina, Theater, Rec Center, Museum, Casino and public parks and playgrounds. From GEMS to the Gulfport trolley to developing safer routes for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, we strive to improve transportation. Likewise, we strive to improve how we do business (sanitation, recycling, permitting, billing, public works projects) to better serve our constituents through ongoing improvements in administration. This too must continue.
Kemnetz: Public Safety: Gulfport has a higher crime rate than New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles! According to neighborhoodscout.com: “With a crime rate of 47 per one thousand residents, Gulfport has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes – from the smallest towns to the very largest cities. One’s chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime here is one in 21. Within Florida, more than 88% of the communities have a lower crime rate than Gulfport.” Gulfport’s high crime rate is driven by larceny (theft), burglary and motor vehicle theft – crimes that are largely preventable by raising public awareness – encouraging people to lock doors in their homes/automobiles and promoting neighborhood watch. Preventing trauma to crime victims is top priority. A lower crime rate will also help attract business and increase property values.
Aging Infrastructure: Over 100 million gallons of raw/partially treated sewage have been released into our bays and Clam Bayou since 2015. Lawsuits were filed against St. Petersburg and Gulfport. The sanitary sewer system was leaking badly – a problem that had been ignored for years. It’s finally getting attention, but what is the condition of our drinking water system? What about storm sewers, streets, sidewalks and city buildings? Through regular inspections/testing, we need to know the condition of assets and plan for timely repair/replacements.
Integrity and Transparency: Gulfport’s mayor tried to double his pay within a three-year period. We need an ordinance requiring an independent analysis/recommendation on compensation. Remove the temptation for government officials to line their pockets with your tax dollars! Candidates for mayor/city council should be subject to the same criminal background checks as applicants for any city job, with the results disclosed to voters.
If elected, what new initiative do you plan to introduce and why?
Henderson: I do not foresee a day when we will stop trying to improve our city while making every effort to sustain the special qualities, diverse culture and unique environment of Gulfport. In addition to the aforementioned tasks, I see many new steps on the horizon. Our Senior Center is next in line for substantial upgrades. This is the sunshine state, and I want solar power and other alternative energy sources to become part of future changes to new and existing city facilities. It is time. I want to entice tech firms to invest in Gulfport to give us options in terms of cable and internet providers. It is also imperative that I continue collaborating with our extremely talented staff and hard-working council to expand regional partnerships and take full advantage of funding opportunities through grants, special programs and governmental appropriations. In all my duties as your mayor, I will keep steering Gulfport with a steady hand and craft local policy with integrity, fairness, compassion and mindfulness. This job remains deeply important to me; a public trust that I take very seriously. I ask for your vote on March 12th so that I may keep working for our community.
Kemnetz: Beyond tackling the crime rate, aging infrastructure and enhanced integrity/transparency, I propose to:
Pursue Solar Energy Installations: The City of Gulfport expects to spend over $450,000 for electricity during this fiscal year. Solar companies are installing solar panels on people’s homes in Gulfport with no up-front cost. Imagine how much we could cut energy bills and contribute to a better environment if the city utilized our most-accessible (and free) source of energy!
Develop a Strategic Plan: We live in a rapidly changing world with many challenges and opportunities. These can be identified by tapping the knowledge of residents, business owners and employees. How do we attract new investment and revitalize the city while retaining its character? How do we address the impact of climate change? How will driverless vehicles affect the need for parking space? Let’s bring representatives of all stakeholders together to identify issues and opportunities and develop a long-range strategic plan.
Enhance Responsiveness to Constituents: Businesses often conduct surveys to assess customer satisfaction. Let’s use surveys to get input from residents on significant issues so that decisions are responsive to constituents and not unduly influenced by special interests.
Gulfport City Council
What makes you uniquely qualified to serve as a councilmember for the city of Gulfport, Florida?
Christine Anne Brown, vice mayor, incumbent: Over the past 30 years and through the experience of volunteering, I learned to drive a firetruck and respond to midnight calls. I guided Girl Scouts and camped overnight. I attended society meetings, board meetings, committee meetings and trainings. I cheered at little league games and ensured the safety of our children rushing to the egg hunt, the Halloween bash and to see Santa at the tree lighting. I know the history, the places and the people. Pride, passion and kindness are alive in Gulfport and I am proud to be an integral part of the fabric of our community.
Byron Edward Chalfont: I believe being a successful businessman and home owner here in Gulfport gives me a valuable perspective to what makes Gulfport unique. I have operated several successful businesses in the past. I am currently the owner of Siri’s Gourmet Burgers & Pizza where I have increased business by nearly five times the income of five years ago. I have been on several community boards in the past. I worked hard on each board to make them more fiscally responsible. I took one building from heavily burdened debt to debt free and improved amenities in two years, without increasing fees.
Chrisan Herrod: Proven leadership and skilled project manager. Twenty-two years as an active and reserve officer of the U.S. Armed Forces. Senior executive, the Department of Defense, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Fannie Mae. Senior executive and vice president for healthcare and technology companies. Gulfport Business owner-committed to small business. Secretary of the Board of Directors of Gulfport’s Senior Center Foundation. Managed the Senior Center Foundation’s GETGO program. Education: Master of Science in Resource Management, National Defense University; Doctor of Education, Northcentral University. Education and work experiences uniquely qualify [me] to be “a pro-active voice on the Gulfport City Council.”
Michael Fridovich, councilmember, incumbent: I am an Army combat veteran, serving one year in Vietnam. I am a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in Urban Studies. My extensive work experience includes being a licensed realtor in excess of 30 years. Additionally, I have owned and operated several small businesses including being a restaurateur. My public service, in addition to six years on Gulfport’s City Council, include serving as Gulfport’s alternative representative to the Mayors Luncheon and being a member of the Tampa Bay Regional Council as well as a vice president of the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce (Miami), years ago.
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Richard Fried: Setting office hours for all council members – we need to hear you out – everyone’s opinion matters. I will challenge our local, regional, and national representatives; I want you to challenge me so that real social change that matters to everyday people happens. I will advocate for the stipulation of facts contained within the city budget and policy matters so honest debates can occur between citizens, council members and our city manager. I will speak for those who do not or will not speak up for themselves because they feel they cannot make a difference – I will speak truth to power.
What are the top three issues facing your ward? Explain why each issue is key and provide specifics on how you believe it can be addressed.
Brown: Great things are happening in Ward II. You can eat breakfast with a Lion, walk in a parade with a gecko and learn our history with a square mullet. Our senior center is dynamic. Our recreation center is full-of-life. The Casino is the place to make memories. The Stage lights are bright at the theater. We have a cutting-edge, award-winning marina. Our library boasts a landmark, nationally recognized LGBTQ Resource Center. Shops are bustling, restaurants are outstanding and it’s sweet to be the envy of other cities.
It is the goal of your city council to ensure that our community is a safe and enjoyable place to live, work and play. We work with individual residents daily and community groups continually to find positive, impactful solutions to problems.
An important issue affecting all residents continues to be funding infrastructure updates. City council has dedicated $6,800,000 to analyze, monitor, repair and replace aging sewers. Properly functioning sewers are critical components in protecting the health of residents and the environment. Maintaining the integrity of the system is paramount and I am committed to ensuring that program funding continues.
Weather, usage and time all impact the condition of roads, sidewalks and alleys. Following a comprehensive survey, a ranked list was developed. Each year roadways are paved, brick streets repaired and sidewalks replaced. Priority funds must be devoted for continual improvement of our roads, alleys and sidewalks during the annual budgetary process.
Providing access to open, safe waters is essential for a coastal community. Abandoned and derelict boats on our waters are a hazard to navigation and an environmental threat. Our police department works in concert with county and state officials to identify, investigate and target these vessels for removal. It is imperative that we continue this program until all vessels are removed.
Chalfont: I don’t have a particular axe to grind. I wish to work for the betterment of all of Gulfport, and to that end I am always accessible and will be responsive to all. As far as Ward II is concerned, the most important issue is the quality of the water and the beach. Current steps being implemented are a start but we must continue to look into other ways to improve the beach for our residents. I would also like to look into the possibility of a community pool for the residents of Gulfport. The continued growth of the “Art District” is inevitable. We must formulate a plan that will keep that “Gulfport” feel we all come here for while allowing the unique businesses here [to] thrive. We must find a way to improve the parking situation. I don’t proclaim to know all the answers to that one but I am willing to do the work to find a solution for the future that will help all. Continuing to build and add businesses without consideration of the impact on parking is not the answer. Thank you for your consideration.
Herrod: The three key issues affecting Ward 2 include Business Development/ City Character, Marina District/ Environment, and Infrastructure/Budget.
Gulfport’s city character is important. The preservation of the “small old town Florida” feel of Gulfport and what we collectively envision should be documented and adopted by the city council. The solution is to establish a citizens committee to develop a City Character Charter, that includes an update of our historical preservation plan.
It is important that we review all proposed marina district initiatives balancing the impact on the environment and our citizens, with the return on investment. For example, the BCYC Breakwater Linear Park Project Phase 1 was funded at $210,532. A four-phase project, it is imperative that we scrutinize the overall initiative before approving the remaining phases with a focus on the impact to wildlife and surrounding environs.
We must adjust and adopt an operating budget that addresses the most pressing infrastructure issues, including the sewer system, the suitability of which is in question. Alleys throughout the city must be re-graded. We need to develop a flood mitigation/disaster recovery plan that is actionable and realistic given our resources. Our infrastructure is the underpinning of our community, modernization of which is imperative if we are to sustain businesses and residential areas. We must determine how best to move forward with Senior Center improvements, given budget constraints. The primary challenge will be to approve a fiscally responsible budget and to continuously scrutinize budget expenditures for cost effectiveness and return on investment. We must also accelerate a review to determine if the city’s organizational structure and staffing are adequate. This is not something that should be left to “future years” (Gulfport Budget, 2019, p. 6) Let’s work together to keep Gulfport a great place to live and visit.
Fridovich: The first issue is the same for all of us who represent our city by keeping up with the infrastructure issues and finding the money to do so: street paving, sewers and re-claiming sidewalks, alleys.
My ward begins its border on 49th Street South. This part of the city has the car lots, garages, storage facilities and some retail. Therefore, issues include fighting the misperceptions and many untruths regarding the area.
Plus helping the rest of the businesses and residential properties maintain a friendly environment by being a guardian of the budget and working with what we have without raising the mileage rate for the last six years.
Working with the city to bring new and fresh ideas and progress toward projects like the new playground and workout facilities at Tomlinson Park Complex and the soon to be finished Trolley Market Square.
Fried: Promoting solar power on municipal buildings; accounting for the cost savings in the budget; creating an additional tier of 1,500 gallons promoting water conservation and reducing single household cost.
When elected I will set office hours. I believe office hours should be set for all councilmembers. As an elected councilmember, I not only represent the concerns of my ward but all constituents. Your first phone call needs to be to me, your elected representative, not city officials who are not elected into public office. The city manager works for the members of the city council, not you, the voter. I, we, need to hear you out – whether I agree with you or not. I want to know what is important to you. I want to know your ideas so we can make it happen. In this vein of thought, I believe in promoting inclusiveness and freedom of association within our local and civic organizations, that every opinion matters. Your civic engagement matters. I believe speaking to me and my fellow councilmembers face to face, even when challenged is essential to the free flow of ideas and making a positive difference in the everyday lives of the people who live in Gulfport.
Closing the income gap between our highest and lowest paid city workers – being mindful that two-thirds of our economy is consumer spending: Last year all city employees received a 3.5% raise. In the 2017 approved budget our city manager and city clerk received a 5.0% raise whereas all other city employees received a 3.5% raise thereby increasing the income gap disparity. I propose in order to begin closing the income gap we lesson raises for our highest paid city workers and increase raises for our lowest paid employees. “If not now, when? If not us, who?”