Gulfport is readying itself for the election of a councilmember for Ward 1. The Ward 3 council seat was also up for election this year, but with no challenger, incumbent Councilmember Paul Ray won by default. Gulfport Councilmembers serve two-year terms. The city-wide elections will be held Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
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. 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” before February 3. We will chose from your questions in our follow-up Q&A.
Dan Liedtke – incumbent, Ward 1
What makes you uniquely qualified to serve as a councilmember for the city of Gulfport, Florida?
A solid track record of team-worked accomplishments for Gulfport with twenty years of professional experience at all levels of government including federal, state and county make me uniquely qualified. I also possess a lot of local knowledge residing in Gulfport for over 16 years with eight years of service on Gulfport City Council. My efforts and experience with Gulfport also include time on the National League of Cities Information Technology & Communications Federal Advocacy Board and for the last five years on The Florida League of Cities Transportation & Intergovernmental Relations Policy Committee.
What are the top three issues facing your ward? Explainwhy each issue is key and provide specifics on how you believe each can be addressed.
Infrastructure that impacts our Environment
The primary purpose of our local government is to provide for the health and safety of its citizens. Addressing issues with our public infrastructure, including roadways, sanitary sewers and stormwater management remain ongoing priorities. Increased funding (including loans and grants) has already been allocated for accelerated repairs. We have been working the sewer issues for years and are ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with the challenges. However, countywide we still need 1 billion dollars to address all the issues with our underground aging infrastructure. We can continue to address these issues with proper funding, a maintained sense of urgency and quality oversight of the work being performed.
Ward 1 provides about 60% of all property tax revenue in Gulfport. As a steward of public funds, I have watched our city’s 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. In the last few years, we expanded the marina, added recreational programs and we are continuing work to improve the efficiency of our infrastructure including water systems.
Gulfport’s trusted and respected police and fire departments help define Gulfport’s identity and provide a level of service Ward 1 residents appreciate. I will always work to support, empower and improve the Gulfport Police and Fire departments. Some improvements implemented under my tenure include take-home cars for our police officers, pet respirators for our fire department and a new rescue vehicle with paramedic for medical calls.
If elected, what new initiative do you plan to introduce and why?
One of the principal goals for this year includes finalizing plans and obtaining funding for a new modern Gulfport Senior Center. In Gulfport those 65 and older now outnumber those under 18 by three to one. As the demographics shift it is important to develop long-term effective strategies to support the health and happiness of aging Americans, thereby lessening the weight of care on families, friends, social workers and caregivers. In the last six years we have replaced every playground in town, added sunshades over playgrounds, built a first-class skate park, and we have developed the best groomed beach volleyball courts in the county. It’s time to shift a little focus on toward services and programs that help our aging population.
We will also maintain a continued focus on options for cleaner waterways [and a cleaner] Clam Bayou, lower taxes, and working to keep the business environment open, friendly and thriving. Please, “Stand By Dan” and Vote Dan Liedtke!
April Thanos – challenger, Ward 1
What makes you uniquely qualified to serve as a council member for the City of Gulfport, Florida?
I have been attending city council meetings for the last five years and understand the issues, concerns and processes of city government. I met with the Community Development staff to gain a better understanding of Gulfport’s zoning and codes. I have been involved in Gulfport by volunteering with Getgo, the Welcome Center and the Pink Flamingo Home Tour as well as other events. In Seattle, I was on my neighborhood council for 10 years and have gained experience of living in many other cities and seeing how they handle problems and plan for the future.
What are the top three issues facing your ward? Explain why each issue is key and provide specifics on how you believe each can be addressed.
The issues in Ward are the same as in the entire city:
Responsible growth: How can we grow and prosper as residents and businesses and keep Gulfport’s small-town character? I don’t want to see all our homes replaced by huge sprawling mansions and I don’t want all of our owner businesses replaced by chains. We would then be like every other area and not draw residents and tourists who want something different. We could easily wake up in 10 years and see that everything has changed for the worst.
Environment: The current council is doing a good job or replacing/repairing our sewer system, but we need to do more to become resilient to climate change. We all know intersections that turn into ponds and streets that flood on sunny days. We need to make plans to fix these problems and find out how to prepare for rising sea levels. We are a very low city [and] need to take action now.
Collaboration and Inclusivity: We haven’t had town hall meetings or workshops to discuss issues in an open format with all citizens and businesses in several years. Gulfport has many bright, talented people who could offer help and suggestions to solve any issues we may have. There is not the time or the format in city council meetings to explore the possibilities for Gulfport. We need to plan for more than five years. I want to know what our city will be like in 20 or more years!
If elected, what new initiative do you plan to introduce and why?
I want to have a complete look at our zoning and codes. These were compiled years ago when Gulfport was desperate for development. That is not our situation now. I would propose a citizen and council board to go over the height, density, parking, design, diversity of amenities, affordable housing, environmental and social effects of all our zoning and codes for both residential and business areas. This is a big project, but it won’t be expensive. If we don’t do it now, we won’t be able to stop development we don’t want or encourage the type we as a community decide we want.
Paul Ray – default winner, Ward 3
What makes you uniquely qualified to serve as a council member for the city of Gulfport, Florida?
During my two years of being on city council I have worked with the YMCA, Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board, Stetson College and the City of Gulfport to provide free swimming lessons, worked with Tampa Bay Watch to have hundreds of Vertical Oyster Gardens (VOGs) installed, advocated in Tallahassee on Gulfport’s behalf on various issues. Prior to council I served on the Merchants Association Board of Directors, on events such as “Dine out For Life,” Pride Parade and the Festival, designed and built the Grow Boxes for the Senior Centers, planted trees in Clymer park, contributed to the Community Garden, raised funds and donations for the Senior Center, volunteered driving the GetGo, volunteered at Junk in the Trunk, Mayors Cleanup, to name a few which got me in touch with the Gulfport community. I am of the belief that involvement should always be part of caring for the community you are part of. I have been both an ear and a voice for the people of Gulfport on various issues and I believe that experience and my connection to the people of Gulfport uniquely qualifies me to represent them on the council.
What are the top three issues facing your ward? Explain
a. Infrastructure: The current condition of our sewers and storm drainage systems certainly rise to the top of the key issues. We have made significant progress addressing the issue, but we need to continue to keep focus to get ahead of the curve on the continuously deteriorating infrastructure.
b. Continue to keep Gulfport a Full-Service City. Keeping our first responders local has many benefits to the residents in both keeping the feel of the small town as well as known representation should a problem arise. As a councilmember [I] need to continue to be effective in stewardship on budgeting and planning to ensure this.
c. Keeping the look and feel of Gulfport: This has risen to the top of issues of late and understandably so. I would like to see the city management, businesses and residents work together to come up with a comprehensive plan that would be agreeable to all parties involved to help manage the future changes.
What new initiative do you plan to introduce and why?
I am proposing to have at minimum a twice-a-year workshop so that policies and plans can be discussed to create more transparency and get more public input. It is somewhat disheartening to have a council meeting and have only a handful of attendees. On some occasions issues discussed or comments made during council seem to be misrepresented on social media and hopefully the workshop meetings can clarify the issues or statements and alleviate those misunderstandings.
In addition I am planning on expanding on the free swimming lessons to include adults, creating a tree registry, and continuing with the environmental projects such as the VOGs.