Ward III Representative – Vice Mayor, Paul Ray – Monthly Report
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.