Ward III Representative – Vice Mayor, Paul Ray – Monthly Report
- SEPTEMBER 2023
- AUGUST 2023
- SEPTEMBER 2023
- JUNE 2023
- MAY 2023
- APRIL 2023
- MARCH 2023
- FEBRUARY 2023
- JANUARY 2023
September marks the tail end of the slower summer season, although these days, the leisurely pace seems less noticeable due to the bustling activity of Gulfport businesses.
On September 11th, I had the honor of opening the ceremony commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks and the tragic loss of 2,977 lives of citizens and first responders. This solemn event took place at the Gulfport Casino. I thank Regina Buscemi for organizing this event each year and for her very heartfelt words. I would also like to express my appreciation to Gulfport’s first responders for their service. As I write this, I am reminded of Regina’s poignant words describing their courage – they are the ones running towards danger while we are running from it.
I attended the Village Supper in the Gulfport Food Forest in Clymer Park. It was a great gathering of wonderful people and some awesome food offerings. The forest has come a long way since Wesley, and I planted one of the first trees back in 2014. I am so proud of all the efforts CreaSirene and volunteers have put in over the years to make it what it is today. I am very happy to see so many new people joining in and enjoying the fruits of that labor.
I attended the Oktoberfest and was very happy at the enormous turn out. The offerings of food and beverages from the Brewery and Courtyard and other businesses in town made for a great time for all.
We successfully concluded the Budget hearings, finalizing the Millage rate, and conducted the first and second readings. I want to express my gratitude to our Finance Director, Cheryl Hannafin, (who will leave her position October 16), and extend our best wishes for her future endeavors. I also thank the City Staff and City Manager for putting together the budget for Council. We endeavored to keep the budget lean in light of future uncertainties, prioritizing essential needs over wants.
Numerous concerns were brought to my attention, including excessive speeding, potholes, and road wear and tear. These issues have been forwarded to the City Manager and Public Works for resolution. Additionally, I addressed a multitude of emails covering various topics in a similar manner.
I wish to extend my gratitude to the dedicated volunteers from Alphabet Soup, who came together to assist a resident in need of yard and tree work. Despite the heat, they were able to manage the overgrowth, and their contribution is deeply appreciated.
This has been a hot summer, one for the record books. I am looking forward to cooler weather to attend more outdoor events as the busy season begins. The Tuesday markets are in full swing, the 1st Friday and 3rd Saturday events are continuing, I hope to see you all out and about. I am always available by Email @ email@example.com or by phone at 727 826-7209.
Enjoy the fall!
While summer is typically considered the off-season for businesses in Gulfport, it’s quite the opposite for City Council. Summertime for us signifies the beginning of the budgeting process. During this period, we carefully evaluate our list of priorities, taking into account various factors, with the primary focus being the impact on our financial future. This year, like previous ones, was no exception. We made a conscious effort to prioritize essential needs over wants. Our recent council meeting marked the culmination of our efforts with the second reading of both the budget and a slightly reduced millage rate, which you’ll soon see reflected in your TRIM Notice from the Pinellas County Property Appraisers Office.
Despite the slower pace of business activity, August is a special time in Gulfport as it marks the traditional Gecko Season. This year’s festivities kicked off with the Gecko Crawl, followed by the Gecko Ball, and concluded with the Gecko Festival. As always, these events were a source of joy for those who attended, and I want to express my sincere gratitude to all the individuals who contribute to making this month so enjoyable. I would also like to extend my appreciation to the dedicated candidates who vied for the title of Gecko Queen, all of whom did an outstanding job. Today, I am delighted to announce our new Gecko Queen, Robert “Bob” Daunch.
I have addressed several neighbor complaints and conducted additional reviews of areas experiencing heavy and, in some cases, dangerous traffic. The City is actively engaged in further research to address these concerns.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to attend the Florida League of Cities’ Annual Business Session in Orlando, where I had fruitful discussions with fellow local elected officials. While I regret not being able to attend all the meetings, it was a valuable experience.
As the temperatures moderate, a group of us are working on localized block parties. Stay tuned for updates, and if you’re interested in participating in these efforts, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Always remember that I am here to assist any resident in need. You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 727-826-7209. I welcome your input and any requests for assistance, and I am committed to responding promptly through either method of contact.
July in Florida is characterized by its typically scorching temperatures and humid conditions. During this period, activities tend to revolve around poolside relaxation or indoor pursuits. Gulfport held our annual July 4th Parade, which had a sizable turnout with numerous participants marching. Despite the heat, we managed to distribute giveaways to the numerous young attendees. 4th of July parades bring back memories for so many of us so a big thanks to the City for once again making this happen.
Due to the 4th of July falling on a Tuesday, we made the decision to forego our usual first Tuesday of the month meeting, reconvening on July 18th for the Council Meeting. During this session, we engaged in a vote on the initial reading of an Ordinance pertaining to a lease agreement with the Gulfport Yacht Club. The vote was unanimous in favor of passing the ordinance. The Gulfport Yacht Club has proven to be a wonderful addition to both the Marina and the wider community. We look forward to many more years of cooperation.
Due to State Guidelines on rolled-back rates, the Council voted to reduce the millage rate from 4.039 to 4.0258. This alteration will be publicized in the Gabber as well as other local media outlets. Furthermore, the Council undertook a vote on a Resolution that supports the adoption of a Constitutional Amendment affirming the right to access clean and healthy waters. Our hope is to see this Amendment included in a future statewide ballot.
For the first time in decades, I took a real vacation. We pulled the RV out of storage and headed off. We traveled north through GA, TB, KY, WV, NY, MA and on the way home RI, CT, NY, PA, NJ, MA, DE, VA, NC, SC and GA and home. It was nice to get away and relax though the traffic on 95 was less than relaxing. Nice to know some things never change.
A considerable portion of our council responsibilities entails addressing complaints and inquiries. July followed this pattern, marked by concerns encompassing trees tangled in power lines within alleyways, speeding vehicles, neighbor disputes, road damages, and noise grievances.
Of late, we have been handling a significant rise in neighbor disputes. We are fortunate to live in a great community where it has always been said, that the character of Gulfport is not the buildings but the people and friendships with neighbors. That attitude goes a long way toward maintaining that special character. I believe that reaching out diplomatically to seek a resolution would go far in maintaining civility with our neighbors.
Escalating traffic issues have also come to our attention and are met with solutions as demonstrated by the implementation of traffic calming measures on 11th Ave S and Tangerine Ave S. We thank the residents who promptly alerted us and provided substantiating documentation, facilitating swift resolutions. These roads are generally 30 mph or 25 mph depending. As the northern part of the City witnesses a surge in road users, particularly young pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders, ensuring road safety remains paramount.
I am readily accessible to any resident requiring assistance. Please feel free to reach out via email at email@example.com or by phone at 727-826-7209. Your input and requests for assistance are warmly welcomed.
Stay cool and hope to see you out and about.
June is always a busy month followed by July, leading up to the August Gecko Season. The Pride Festival, which featured over 170 booths and a fantastic lineup of entertainment, was a resounding success. On June 17th, we celebrated Juneteenth at the Gulfport Casino, and thanks to the Gulfport Kiwanis Club, it had a great turnout. We proudly represented Gulfport by participating in the St. Pete Pride Parade, despite the sweltering heat, as the large crowds made it worthwhile.
All spots for the Free Swimming lessons program at Stetson’s Pool, organized in conjunction with Pinellas YMCA, Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board, City of Gulfport, and the Milner Company, have been filled. I was thrilled to bring back this program after its suspension during COVID.
The Council is currently engaged in the Annual Budget process, and we received positive feedback on the Gulfport ACFR FY22 Audit from David Alvarez CPA. However, Council and City staff are being cautious about the uncertain financial future due to hyperinflation in the State of Florida, particularly in Pinellas County, and the ongoing strength of the housing market. As a result, we have prioritized essential funding (“must haves”) over discretionary spending (“would likes”) and have formulated a very conservative budget.
The lease renewal process with Boca Ciega Yacht Club was arduous and contentious. We have standardized lease agreements for all properties in the City, including BCYC, which necessitated negotiations. After an initial vote left them without a lease, I successfully persuaded the Council to allow BCYC, City Manager, and City Attorney to return to the bargaining table. The vote on the first reading of the bargaining resulted in a vote, 2 for and 3 against. Effectively once again leaving them without a lease. Council Member Thanos and I pushed for a motion to reconsider, and we succeeded. The revote without the 150 X 22 strip of land and only the lease, passed 3 to 2. On the second reading the vote was the same as the first. I was very glad that the negotiations were over and done with and so wished it had gone more smoothly, however; eventually, a revised lease was approved, ensuring the continuation of BCYC’s contributions to the Gulfport community.
I’ve been working closely with residents on a variety of issues, ranging from neighbor disputes to short-term rental regulations, city ordinances, and traffic concerns. Additionally, I’ve actively participated in online discussions regarding the implementation of new preemptions and laws passed by the State Legislature during their 2023 session. Many of these laws have significant implications and restrictions on the City’s operations, some of which have already taken effect as of July 1, while others will begin on October 1st.
July promises to be a busy month with exciting events such as fireworks and our annual parade. I am eagerly looking forward to Gecko World, and I encourage everyone to participate in the Crawl, Ball, and Festival and don’t forget to cast your votes for the new Gecko Queen.
As always, I am readily available, so feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 727 826-7209, and I’ll be sure to respond to your call or email.
I collaborated with various organizations including Pinellas YMCA, Stetson University College of Law, Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board, and the City of Gulfport to deliver complimentary swimming lessons to children in the Gulfport area. The response was overwhelming, as all the available slots were filled even before the classes commenced. We had over 100 openings, and each one was quickly taken.
I advocated for a change to the Cities RV Ordinance, which was significantly more restrictive than those of other municipalities in Pinellas County. I proposed aligning our regulations with those of neighboring cities, and we engaged in extensive discussions involving Gulfport RV owners and individuals who opposed the change. These conversations were instrumental in shaping the Council’s viewpoint on the matter. I invested substantial time in meeting with owners of existing grandfathered RVs, as well as those who had RVs parked in their yards. Eventually, the ordinance change passed both readings.
During our meeting on March 21, we conducted the first reading of the lease agreement with Boca Ciega Yacht Club. Initially, it appeared that the Council was inclined to vote against it due to certain provisions. To address this concern, I proposed tabling the vote and allowing the City Manager, City Attorney, and the Club’s Board an opportunity to further modify the agreement. I highlighted six non-negotiable items identified by the Council, one example being the non-acceptance of the rules outlined in our Human Rights Ordinance (HRO). The Club accepted this suggestion, and the outcome was subsequently discussed at the May Council Meeting. We had the first reading of the modified lease agreement with Boca Ciega Yacht Club, which also included options related to the 155 X 22-foot property between the end of the street on the south end of the main marina basin to the hoist. The lease was approved with a 3 to 2 vote in favor of option “A,” which excluded the span of land. The final vote was scheduled for June 6th’s.
I had an amazing opportunity to find out what it is like to be a Firefighter during Fire Ops 101. Gulfport’s Fire Department were behind me 100% as I dressed in their full outfits (btw the whole outfit weighs about 75 lbs.) cut open vehicles with jaws of life, carried hoses into pitch black buildings, climbing stairs and entering involved (simulated for us thank goodness) buildings using modern technology to identify hot spots and dangers. Using modern technology, we experienced what it is like to attempt to resuscitate an unconscious adult while equipment monitored the patients’ heart rates. It was an exhausting exercise; I am sure the patient survived. All in all, the entire almost 7-hour long event was a great education on what our Fire Fighters and EMT’s jobs are like. I left exhausted but very confident in our amazing professionals’ abilities.
I want to express my sincere gratitude to the numerous individuals who stop by our house while walking in Ward 3, engaging in frequent conversations and sharing their perspectives. I genuinely appreciate the time you take to visit and chat, and I eagerly anticipate many more such encounters. By the way, having a porch or deck in the front has truly enhanced the sense of community, and in fact, we recently passed modifications to setbacks, making it easier for residents to install them.
Representing Gulfport at PARC’s Casino night at the James Museum in St. Pete was an absolute delight. Given the considerable number of Gulfport citizens who work for PARC and the clients residing in our city, this event held great significance for our community.
I have been diligently reviewing the legislation passed during the Legislative Session and closely monitoring the bills signed into law by Governor DeSantis. I have also actively participated in Florida League of City meetings explaining the bills and their potential impact.
Once again, we saw the true spirit of Gulfport when the community came out to show support for one of our own, Denise Keegan O’Hare, our Council person Ian O’Hara’s spouse. It was a very successful fundraiser, which greatly helps in her ongoing battle with cancer. Thank you, Gulfport.
Council Report – April
We did not have a meeting on April 4th as many council members were in Tallahassee for the Legislative Session.
Due to the pending Ash Wednesday and Easter Break, we had to be efficient with our Legislative appointments. A group of about 12 scheduled appointments for that Monday evening, Tuesday and Wednesday. Most house members left the capital on Tuesday afternoon, while the senators left later that day or early Wednesday. We scrambled to meet with as many legislators as possible, with many of the meetings taking place in the hallways.
We met with several legislators, including Senator Nick DiCeglie, Senator Ed Hooper, Representative Michele Raynor, Senator Darryl Rouson, Representative Susan Valdez, Representative Dianne Hart, Representative Traci Koster, Representative Lindsay Cross, Representative Linda Chaney, Representative Adam Anderson, and Representative Kimberly Berfield. During the meetings, we discussed the following bills:
- HB 833 (Duggan) and SB 714 (DiCeglie) – Vacation Rentals. We suggested that the registration fees should be higher than what the bills stated ($50 and $100 for a collective) and that municipalities should be able to levy a minimal inspection fee ($25 each). Our concern was that the fees would not cover the cost of administering the process.
- SB 682 (DiCeglie) and HB 671 (Esposito) – Residential Building Permits. We argued that requiring a maximum of three calendar days for a permit to be issued was unacceptable, as it would put a significant burden on building departments. If the permit was not issued within three calendar days (not business days), confusion would arise regarding inspection.
- HB 37 (Roach) and SB 774 (Brodeur) – This would require all elected officials to submit a full Form 6 financial disclosure. The FLC did not take a position on this bill, although most of the group we were in were opposed.
- CS/HB 401 (Beltran) and SB 604 (Gruters) – Sovereign Immunity. We argued against increasing the current limit of $200K per person / $300K per incident to $2.5M per person and $5M per incident as it could bankrupt a municipality in one lawsuit.
- CS/HB 383 (Griffitts) and SB 346 (DiCeglie) – Public Construction. We opposed this bill as it would burden municipalities.
Florida Holocaust Museum
I was honored to read names at the Florida Holocaust Museum for Yom HaShoah. Although I’ve done this before, reading the names is always an emotional task. It’s saddening to see how people can bend to such atrocities and not stand up against them. Perhaps this serves as a lesson to us all, given the divisions we currently see in this country.
I’m pleased with Tom Nicholls, Director of our Public Works department, for responding promptly to safety issues raised by several neighbors on 11th Ave South.
Safety Around Water
The plans for the free Safety Around Water program have been finalized between Stetson College, Pinellas YMCA, The Juvenile Welfare Board, and the City of Gulfport. Lessons will commence on May 6th. The program is for non-swimmers aged 3 to 12 and can be signed up for by calling 727-328-9622 or online at https://www.stpeteymca.org/programs/safety-around-water-program/.
Short Term Rentals (STR)
I wanted to clarify the process that Council directed the city manager to put in place and set the record straight. Both the city manager and I (as I, and others, worked with code enforcement, the city attorney, and the city manager to put together the strategy) said we would not take a draconian approach to code enforcement on STRs and, in fact, would keep it as a complaint-driven initiative.
We stated that a complainant would have to provide evidence that it was an STR. If the police are contacted regarding an infraction (parking blocked, disturbing the peace, altercations, etc.) and the caller said it was a STR, then the Granicus software and code enforcement would come into play.
If the code enforcement officer, through use of the software, deemed that it was, in fact, an illegal STR, then the process of the code violation would commence and could end up in front of the magistrate.
Due to the concern from a group, I posted on Facebook asking those who attended the council meeting or anyone could contact me on the subject. Several people responded; I communicated the above explanation. To reassure them that whatever they had heard was incorrect; I explained the process. They thanked me for clarifying and allaying their fears. Furthermore, I explained that I am not fan of an overabundance of STRs as they can have a negative impact to the very “community” the STR renters come to visit, but that on a controlled basis STRs do, in fact, contribute positively to the local economy and property values. I reiterated that the Florida state legislature has tied our hands when it comes to any modification to our grandfathered ordinance.
I felt that it was important to set the record straight. Anyone requiring additional assistance can always reach me at 727-826-7209 or email at email@example.com.
The RV Ordinance first reading was held at the Tuesday, April 18 City Council Meeting, and it was passed with a 5 – 0 vote for. This was something I had a long time back promised a dear friend to address. I was very pleased with the civility of the discussions and the residents who spoke for and against the proposed change. I believe the changes to the ordinance will be more equitable and aligned with other communities in Pinellas County.
The April 4th Council Meeting was canceled due to a few of us being in Tallahassee for the Legislative Session.
I attended Habitat for Humanity’s 800th home dedication in the Tampa Bay Area, what an amazing organization. Under the leadership of Mike Sutton, we have seen remarkable success stories and I for one, as an elected official, enjoy volunteering on their builds. I was fortunate to get to speak with the beneficiary of the 800th home. I was so proud of her and the sweat equity she put into her and her daughters’ new forever home.
I also worked with neighbors on 11th Ave S who had concerns about road safety. We had reports of various issues attributed to vehicles parked on the sides of narrow roads. Large vehicles would try to get around the parked vehicles causing the potential for accidents. As an example of how narrow some roads in Gulfport are, picture two school buses or FEDEX trucks unable to pass each other. We have had a few cases where drivers veer so far to their right that they unintentionally damage mailboxes. Imagine if someone was getting their mail at the time. Another concern was the speeding occurring on the roads. Tom Nichols, the Director of Public Works, ordered a study that showed that some drivers were exceeding the speed limit, causing a safety hazard.
I handled multiple complaints about STR’s – explained the process to call the police if a violation occurs and to mention it is a short-term rental.
City Council voted to extend the BCYC lease approval by a 4 to 1 vote until May. Council instructed City staff to return to the bargaining table with BCYC representatives. An up or down vote will take place at a May Council Meeting.
My request for outlining all the ways in which the City communicates with the citizens was well crafted and well received. Thanks to Justin Shea and David Mather for creating a great and thorough presentation on the many ways, the City communicates and acts on the resident’s behalf.
March Town Hall Meeting- Scott Dudley, Field Advocacy and Federal Affairs for Florida League of Cities, gave a great presentation regarding the local impact of some of the pending Senate and House Bills. The presentation opened many of the attendee’s eyes as to the quantity of preemptions the state is pushing on municipalities.
Before and during the Florida legislative session there are many meetings with the Florida League of Cities informing elected officials of the potential impact of Senate and House bills. These frequent meetings provide the details of the pending and in-play bills so that we can contact Senators and Representatives on the resident’s behalf. This has once again been a very busy session. I will be detailing in subsequent reports some of the bills we as a group oppose, support, or suggested amendments to.
Before COVID interrupted just about every facet of our lives, I worked with the Pinellas YMCA, Stetson College of Law, Pinellas Juvenile Welfare board, and the City of Gulfport to offer free Safety Around Water classes for local children. We had a successful program with almost 100 kids learning how to be safe around water. I am working with the same groups now to promote 8 weeks of classes in the Spring / Summer of 2023.
We have seen an uptick on number of Code Enforcement cases and want to thank Mark Ottervanger and our new officer Heather Wyble. We were way overdue on expanding our much over worked Code Enforcement office and glad to see the addition is already showing results. We had excellent weather for our annual So49th Car Show on Tangerine Park. The weather was a real change of pace as rain has plagued previous year’s events.
Every year Habitat for Humanity invites local elected officials to volunteer to work on new homes. It was a joy to work side by side with the future homeowner in Lealman (I only recently learned how to pronounce that city name). We painted and insulated the entire house until we were cut short by a rainstorm. The County building inspector approved our work, of course no pressure on him, with all the County Commissioners all working on the project present.
Gulfport hosted the annual Fine Arts Festival in Veterans Park. The event was well attended, and the collection of artists was amazing. Always a fun afternoon to stroll the great park, enjoy artists’ works, and listen to music.
Yearly, Gulfport hosts the Get Rescued event, and this year was amazing as they always are with great weather and an incredible turnout. We can thank the GMC, SIK Productions, and the City of Gulfport for yet another wonderful and productive event. I am sure the pets who were adopted thank us all.
I have taken quite a few calls and in person questions regarding Short Term Rentals and the procedure from residents in all the wards. I proposed to Council and City staff that we put together a presentation on the process for better clarity to the public, stay tuned for that during an upcoming meeting.
The State Legislative Session is underway and I spend a great deal of time researching and tracking bills being introduced. I will continue to reach out to State Representatives and Senators advocating for the bills that benefit us as well as advocating against the ones that erode local rule and impact not just the Council’s ability to govern but the residents rights as well. I will be carrying that up to Tallahassee in a few weeks to meet with legislative members and the Florida League of Cities to further push for local rule and funding for local initiatives.
I spent a significant amount of time going door to door speaking with residents regarding various issues. I find this to be beneficial as so much of Gulfport has changed. So many long-term residents have sold their homes and new families have moved in, this gives me a chance to get to know our newest residents. I will be continuing to do this once my knee heals a little.
Weds March 15th I am hosting a Gulfport Town Hall at the Gulfport Public Library. We have Scott Dudley giving us a presentation on how we can get more involved with voicing our concerns to Tallahassee during the current legislative session. Too many of the nearly 1,700 bills being introduced to the legislative body impact the city of Gulfport and we need to be informed and involved to protect home rule.
January is always a busy month for me personally, so I am a little overdue on this report, my apologies. There was only one City Council meeting in the month of January. We generally do not have a heavy schedule during election cycle, but we have not been without subjects.
I have been working with the YMCA and Stetson College on reviving our previous free “Safety Around Water” program that was put on hold due to COVID. I am working towards a springtime resumption of classes for children and possibly adults. This program was a big success with around 50 kids who learned how to be safe around water. During the Saturday morning events at Stetson I had the chance to speak to the enrolled kids guardians and they voiced their excitement that their children would be safer around water but also revealed that they could not swim themselves. I was taken back by that after all, Florida leads the nation in the number of drownings, especially child drownings. With that fact in mind, I am working towards possibly including adults and adults with disabilities.
I proposed and planned the Black History Month flag raising for Feb 1. We had a light turn out but the future of the event will have better representation as I assist Marissa Dix who will be organizing this for the next year.
During the month, I have attended various Florida League of Cities meetings including legislative priorities meeting with discussions on short-term rentals, enterprise fund transfers. A great deal of this is in preparation for my traveling to Tallahassee in April to personally lobby for funding and for return of local rule with our State Legislators while in session.
I hosted the Arbor Day celebration at Trolley Square with members of Gulfport’s awesome parks department and School Year Program. The kids and I planted a wonderful magnolia and the parks department planted bay leaf magnolias. Our replacement of trees is wonderful however; it pales in comparison to the trees being taken down across the City. I truly wish more people would replace trees that come down. As most know, we have been designated a tree City for over 24 years and I have always enjoyed the ceremony and have not missed a celebration since on council. We had Marivel Gutierrez, the Recreational Supervisor leading the kids in readings regarding the importance of trees for cleaning the air and producing the air we breathe. As some may know, Wesley and I were among the first people who planted fruit trees in Clymer Park with CreaSirene Egan Romanelli and many volunteers nearly a decade ago.
Vice Mayor Christine Brown and I attended a tour of the PARC facilities with the CEO /President Michelle Detweiler. It was a very informative and enlightening tour seeing how the facility serves the needs from newborns to seniors on so many levels.
Wesley and I attended the 70th Anniversary of PARC held at the James Museum with fellow St. Petersburg Council Members and Mayor.
I worked on a proposed agenda item to discuss modifying current restrictions on RV’s on private property. I went door to speak with dozens of people on the grandfathered list and those with permitted RV’s as well as people at large. This effort comes as a fulfillment of a promise made when I first ran unsuccessfully for City Council almost 9 years ago.
Once again we had So49th’s Annual Car show and the weather for the first time in many years was awesome. It was nice to see people checking out the vehicles and enjoying the activities.
We are moving into a new year, and before we arrive there I hope we can all take stock in where we are, who we are, and make some plans to keep the progress moving positively forward. The time from Thanksgiving to New Years for many can be an uplifting time, but for others a very trying one. During this season, I believe we should be sharing our good fortune and blessings with others not just because of economic difficulties but also mental health issues. I know when I lost my partner back in 1996, I found the holidays most painful and the outreach from friends and family helped to lessen the pain.
December is a busy month and Gulfport celebrates in many ways, complete with our annual tree lighting in Clymer Park in which we were honored to have Yvonne Johnson, Gulfport’s first woman Mayor, sing carols with Mayor Henderson and his wife Laura. Following the tree lighting, we had Santa Rampage, a Gulfport Safety Parade, weekly-decorated golf cart parades through the City, a decorated bike parade, and this year, we had roving Carolers. It was very heartwarming to see the massive contributions made by the community to the annual Gulfport Police Department’s collection and distribution of gifts for children.
Council meetings were held December 6th and Dec 20th. On the meeting of the 20th, we had State Representative Linda Chaney who spoke in depth on the results of the state special legislative session. The session mainly consisted of discussion over skyrocketing Homeowners Insurance costs. Representative Chaney discussed a few solutions the session outlined. I did bring up the one thing missed in many discussions on the topic; a requirement that all Citizens Insurance policies must have flood insurance regardless of flood zone, which I fear could put an additional burden on those with fixed incomes. During the council reports section of the meeting, I requested council approve an agenda item for an upcoming meeting to examine the Recreational Vehicle Ordinance that will be on the agenda in January. I am also working to resurrect the free “Safety Around Water” lessons that I worked on organizing with Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board, Stetson College of Law, The St. Petersburg YMCA, and The City of Gulfport, which was suspended due to COVID. As always, I attend a fair amount of online and in person seminars/webinars to gain differing perspectives on being effective representatives as well as communications with residents who email or phone in issues.
November and December are very busy months; our regular Council Meetings in November were on the 1st and the 15th of the month. During The first Tuesday meeting, we had a difficult decision to make on vacating land owned by the City to petitioners who bordered the property on Beach Drive. Council also voted on updating the pension funds, primarily to keep with new IRS Code.
In the second meeting of the month, we voted on the second reading of the vacation of the Beach Drive property and subsequent voting followed the previous session where 3 voted for and 2 against. I voted against, because I believe any property owned by the City is property of the taxpayers and should require a referendum to decide its outcome; this was something I found most residents I spoke with agreed. We approved a new lease for the Historical Society utilizing the Arts Center in Chase Park and the Gulfport Museum (expect to see a lot of happenings in both places in the future).
Council Meetings were held on October 4 and 18.
I held a Town Hall Meeting on October 12. Most comments were regarding Code Enforcement and Short-Term Rentals, though the turnout was light, the residence that were present gave me valuable input on the topics. The next Town Hall meeting will be held in Mid-January.
The City Council held a Workshop October 20 addressing rental issues, specifically, Short-Term Rentals and rental affordability. The outcome of the discussion was to direct staff to investigate what can be done legally. Additionally, the City will investigate how other cities are handling similar issues in their communities. In addition, it was decided to hire a second code enforcement officer and for City staff to determine which software package would best fit our needs when regarding Short Term Rental identification.
I spent time researching the Beach Drive Vacation issue that was reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Board on October 5 with recommendations to the Council.
Other activities this month included:
- I requested several traffic studies, which was reported to me, in the Stetson Area regarding traffic during both school hours and heavier traffic hours.
- I always enjoy webinars and zoom meetings. I attended a Webinar on e-bike laws at the local level, and on getting residents more involved at a local level.
Gulfport City Council held meetings on September 6th and 20th.
Now that budget season is behind us, there is time to reflect on how proud we are to have kept the millage rate unchanged. Though that reflection is significant, we now move on to other important City business. During the month of September, I spent time doing additional research into Short Term Rentals and the Rental Crisis in preparation for the October 20th City Council Workshop which will be held at 6PM in Council Chambers. I would also as ask that you attend my October 12th Town Hall Meeting at 7PM in the Library meeting room. Hoping many residents will be present and willing to offer their valuable input.
Unlike our neighbors to the south, Hurricane Ian barely passed us by leaving us with minimal damage. We need to be grateful that we were spared. We can thank our City Manager and his team of City Workers for an amazing job throughout the emergency, from preparation, providing sand and bags for more than 16,000 sandbags before Ian’s arrival, to the cleanup process.
There are many different drives going on to help provide for the needs of those impacted by Ian so I ask you to locate one of those drives and donate either the provisions they are requesting or a cash donation. One event being planned will be held October 16th at Trolley Market Square, Party for the Paws Cause – A Free Benefit Concert & Pet Donations Drive.
Additionally, in September, I worked with residents on various issues from animal issues, neighbor disputes, traffic concerns, and public works requests. I also attended National Leagues of Cities webinars along with other city and state oriented webinars and podcasts.
Gulfport City Council meetings were held August 2nd and 16th. Council discussed not raising the water rates and reviewing the existing and the proposed Water and Sewer Rate Structure.
Council also discussed and agreed to the suggestion of holding a Council Workshop that will be held on October 20, in Council Chambers at City Hall. The focus of the workshop will be on rent affordability and short-term rentals. A workshop is an open to the public special Council meeting in which discussion is encouraged from the public and Council members on specific subjects. Preceding the workshop, I will be hosting an October 12th Town Hall Meeting at the Library at 6:30 PM where the discussion is open for all topics. The primary topic for the October 12th meeting will be Short Term Rentals and Rental Affordability. I am hoping for a big turn out on October 12th, come with ideas and suggestions that can be brought forward to the workshop.
I am always looking for leadership training and valuable topics that would give me insights into better representing the residents not just in my Ward 3, but the entire City. To that end, I attend various webinars and online meetings. In August, I attended discussions on ways to foster effective municipal services, which also covered interesting perspectives on negativity in relation to responses on social media and emails, etc. I also attended discussions on funding affordable local broadband, other leadership-based trainings, and grant sources for various infrastructure projects. Gulfport has an excellent record of applying for and securing grants. In the past few years, we have secured over 5 million dollars in funding.
I am a member of the Senior Center Fundraising Committee, we met in August to discuss potential donors, status, and future committee endeavors. I am pleased to say we are making remarkable progress.
As part of my continued research into the Short-Term Rental issues and Rental Affordability in Gulfport, I attended an in-depth demonstration of Deckard Technologies product RentalScape, software designed to assist in defining, tracking, and enforcing Short Term Rentals within the City. Previously, I met with a representative from Granicus to evaluate Host Compliance and STR Helper software, the two leading offerings.
During the month of August, I handled a significant number of issues for residents including code issues, complaints on neighborhood disputes, traffic issues, and others.
In preparation for City Council, I review the packet released prior to the meeting, research the topics, meet with City Staff, this month it was Sanitation Rate Structure Analysis with reaching out to other community representatives on their rate structures.
Working on a proposal for Short Term Rentals in Gulfport included Reviews of two competing software packages Granicus’s “Host Compliance” and Dekard’s “RentalScape”. I had demonstrations and read documentation of both products. In addition to the software I had conversation with other communities regarding their approach to STR’s including Compliance rules, Code Enforcement requirements, their usage of Internet AI internet scraping software identifying STR both legal and illegal, Approaches for enforcement and their net results.
I had the pleasure of marching in the well-attended July 4 Parade, and attended the 1 Friday and 3 Saturday Art Walks.
As an effort in keeping up with what is going on I frequently listen to PODCASTS and attend Webinars and this month included ones on Affordable Housing, Short Term Rental Compliance, Infrastructure management, Monitoring and Planning in an volatile economic environment, planning for Smart Cities.
The second of my quarterly Town Hall Meetings was held at the Friends of the Library Room at Gulfport Library, some of the topics included a request to repaint with cooling paint the cement for the Dog Park which was completed since the meeting, Addition Dwelling Units and discussion of proposed solutions, request for traffic solution for 13 And Freemont during school traffics – study has been ordered to examine that intersection, request for a Demo and discussion on Recycling and will be done at October 12 Town Hall Meeting, and discussions on rental controls and what the City can and cannot do.
The bulk of the time spent on City business always includes handling large volumes of emails from residents and various Leagues of Cities as well a Governors and County offices. Handled many complaints on issues including refuse removal, one-way signs on Beach Blvd S, Stop Signs on School session busy streets, fencing installation code rules, permit status for various residents and businesses, and code enforcement issues.