Ten St. Pete Beach residents were interviewed for the position of interim mayor-commissioner at the city commission special meeting held at 2 p.m. on July 26. Prior to the meeting, the applicants submitted a resume and cover letter stating why they wanted to fill the seat vacated by Mayor Commissioner Maria Lowe in June. Lowe, who was elected in 2013 and was serving her first term, resigned to relocate to Paris with her family. Vice Mayor Rick Falkenstein has been carrying out Lowe’s duties since her resignation that was effective June 30.
According to the St. Pete Beach city charter, the interim mayor has the same duties and responsibilities as an elected mayor-commissioner. The interim mayor-commissioner will serve until the March 2017 election, when a new mayor-commissioner will be elected for a three-year term.
Falkenstein welcomed the candidates, whom he greeted as “friends and neighbors,” then began the interview process which consisted of three minutes of opening comments, five minutes of questions posed by the commission and three minutes of closing statements for each candidate.
Deborah Schechner, an educator and real estate retail manager who has lived in St. Pete Beach since 2001, was chosen as top candidate by Commissioners Terri Finnerty and Falkenstein; Ward Friszolowski and Melinda Pletcher preferred Gregory Premer, who served as St. Pete Beach Commissioner from 2014-2016.
Schechner lost to Ward Friszolowski in the District 3 commission race earlier this year. Friszolowski was mayor at the time Schechner was a member of Citizens for Responsible Growth, an activist group that opposed tall buildings along the St. Pete Beach shoreline. She was sued, unsuccessfully, in 2005 over the method she and others used to collect signatures to force a referendum which would have let voters decide whether buildings exceeded height limits
In casting his vote for Premer, Friszolowski cited Premer’s experience, and called him the candidate who remained “neutral through all the divisiveness over the years.”
When the commission became deadlocked, Commissioner Pletcher changed her vote to Schechner, who was voted in by a 3-1 margin.
Schechner took the oath of office with her husband, Steve, and family present. She pledged to do “a great job for the city of St. Pete Beach,” then took her seat with the other commissioners at 6 p.m. for the regular commission meeting.
Schechner thanked those who have supported her, and promised “transparency” during her tenure as interim mayor.
Going forward, Schechner said, “I want to hear what the people of St. Pete Beach have to say. The voices of residents and businesses are important. My door is always open.”