The St. Pete Beach city commission held a special meeting on July 7 to discuss the best way to fill the mayor-commissioner seat vacated by Mayor-Commissioner Maria Lowe at the end of June. Lowe, who was elected in 2013 and was serving her first term, resigned to relocate to Paris, France, with her stepson and husband, who is starting a new job as deputy director of the American Battle Monument Commission. Vice Mayor Rick Falkenstein has been carrying out Lowe’s duties since her resignation effective at end of business June 30.
St. Pete Beach city attorney Andrew Dickman, in a memorandum sent out prior to the meeting, provided three options outlined by the city charter for filling Lowe’s seat: appoint an interim mayor to serve until the regular March 14, 2017 election; hold a special election during the November 16, 2016 general election to allow voters to choose an interim mayor; or hold a special election within the next 60 days, allowing voters to decide.
Dickman called the special election “costly,” and advised against this option. The remaining four commissioners were then asked if any of them were interesting in the interim position. All declined.
District 1 Commissioner Terri Finnerty said she had received many calls from people offering their support should she choose to seek the position. “We have to decide what is the best thing for the city at this point,” she said. “We’re already in a mess with this whole thing. We’ve been left in a lurch for sure.”
The commission then voted unanimously to appoint an interim mayor-commissioner and discussed how to move forward with the search. It was unanimously decided that any St. Pete Beach resident who has lived in the city for one year is eligible. Applicants should submit a cover letter stating their reasons for wanting to serve as mayor along with a resume by noon on July 15. A special meeting will be held at 4 p.m. on July 26 to interview candidates and make a selection. The interim mayor, who will serve until the March 2017 election, will be sworn in at the beginning of the regular commission meeting July 26 at 6 p.m.
Lowe, who was popular with St. Pete Beach residents and the commission, was recognized at a previous meeting on June 28 for her service. In her closing remarks, Lowe was in turn humorous and emotional describing her tenure with the city. A West Point graduate and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Lowe recounted how her husband had moved the family to St. Pete Beach to help her heal from her experiences when her tour of duty ended and she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“When I came back from Afghanistan, I was a very broken woman. It was a difficult experience. This community believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself,” Lowe said tearfully. “My gratitude flows for this experience. I did not do this alone.”
Lowe and her husband will maintain their home in St. Pete Beach. Lowe will return quarterly to meet with her University of South Florida advisor where she is enrolled in a business administration doctoral program.