MyGulfport.us The Official Website of the City of Gulfport

Ward III Representative – Paul Ray – Monthly Report

Paul Ray

Paul Ray

Ward III
pray@mygulfport.us
(727) 262-2479

April Council Report

I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Mama Pearls with the GMC and was heartened to see strong community support.

At the April 2 City Council meeting, I proposed changing the Council elections from March to August to align with primaries for the County Commission and School Board, potentially increasing participation. However, the idea did not pass.

Also at the April 2 Council meeting, we discussed the surface material of the large dog park. After considering various options, we decided to proceed with one option on a trial basis, placing it in the middle of the run space. I have researched the topic extensively, and despite conflicting arguments on the best surfacing options for our humid and heavily used environment, we all hope this choice will prove effective.

Council Member Thanos and I were sworn in during the opening of the Council Meeting on April 2. I am deeply honored to have been given another two years to represent not only Ward 3 but the entire Gulfport community.

At the Council meeting of April 16, the current members of the Board of Adjustment and Planning and Zoning boards were reappointed for another two years. Their exemplary service to the community is commendable, and I am pleased to see them continue in their roles.

The Gabber Newspaper (formerly the Gulfport Gabber which ran from 1968-June 2020) generously donated a set of bound editions to the City of Gulfport.

The Free Safety Around Water program is set to resume in May at Stetson University College of Law, with lifeguards provided by the Pinellas YMCA and funding from the Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board, Pinellas YMCA, and the City of Gulfport.

I am actively working with Rev. Clarence Williams of the Cross and Anvil Human Services, the new caretaker of Lincoln Cemetery, and the City of Gulfport, regarding the lien on the Lincoln Cemetery property I aim to address this matter in an upcoming Council meeting.

I attended the UNI-Tea Dance hosted by My Trans Network of Pinellas County. The function was well attended and I had the opportunity to meet candidates for various upcoming federal, state, and county elections.

As previously mentioned, my new City cell phone number is (727) 826-7209, and my email is pray@mygulfport.us. Please feel free to reach out if you require assistance with any issue. If I am unable to answer your call, kindly leave a message, and I will return your call.

March Council Report

Due to my partner’s recent neurosurgery, my involvement in the community has been very limited this month. Wesley experienced serious complications following a previous similar operation, which necessitated close monitoring for some time afterward. Fortunately, none of our concerns materialized, and Wesley is now recovering well from a successful surgery.

I met with Matt Hamilton from the St. Petersburg YMCA to discuss the Free Safety Around Water classes being offered at Stetson University College of Law. The classes are being offered in partnership with the Juvenile Welfare Board and the City of Gulfport. These classes are available this spring and summer, and following last year’s high participation rate, we anticipate an even greater response this year.

I continue to work with Rev. Clarence Williams of the Cross and Anvil Human Services, the new caretaker of Lincoln Cemetery, and the City of Gulfport regarding the lien on the Lincoln Cemetery property.

The council meeting scheduled for March 16th was canceled due to the election cycle falling on the same Tuesday.

I am actively addressing road issues in Gulfport, such as potholes and the implementation of traffic calming measures. Several residents have expressed concerns about speeding vehicles in their neighborhoods, prompting the City to employ devices to track volume and speed data to inform decision-making. When these concerns align with the data collected, the city can take steps to mitigate speeding, including the use of road paints, stop signs, or speed bumps.

As mentioned previously, I have a new city cell phone number (727) 826-7209, and my email is pray@mygulfport.us. Please feel free to reach out if you require assistance with any issue. If I am unable to answer your call, kindly leave a message, and I will return it promptly.

February marks the peak season for Florida, and Gulfport is no exception. Spend any weekend evening downtown and you will see the thriving downtown activity—restaurants, bars, and retail shops bustling with life, resonating with live music, and drawing crowds of people. The weather has been nice and outdoor events abound. The pleasant weather is made for outdoor events, such as the immensely successful Get Rescued, which broke records this year for more pet adoptions in its 20-year history.

In addition to the well-attended Tuesday markets and our 1st Friday and 3rd Saturday evening events, I had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of Gulfport Police Department Special Operations Sergeant Robert Burkhart’s cigar shop in the iconic “big blue building” on Beach Blvd, wishing him nothing but success.

I have been working with Pastor Clarence Williams of the not-for-profit Cross and Anvil and Vanessa Gray regarding the caretaking of Lincoln Cemetery over a long period of time. As most know, Vanessa has been the caretaker for many years, working tirelessly to try and keep ahead of the grass and weeds, especially during our rainy season. An agreement was reached between the two parties and the ownership was transferred to Cross and Anvil. Through collaboration with Pastor Williams and the City, we resolved maintenance fee liens on the property, ensuring a clear title. A resolution will be brought forward to the City Council to vote on in the up coming council meetings with provisions for reapplying the forgiven liens in any negative event.

I met with Benjamin Barros, the new Dean of Stetson University College of Law, and discussed a wide variety of topics including the possibility of Stetson being included in the upcoming Pink Flamingo tour of homes, an open house for residents, safety around water program, and other safety and campus issues. We welcome Dean Barros to Gulfport and look forward to a close working relationship going forward.

We are entering into our third annual (with a lapse due to COVID) free Safety Around Water program for kids 3 to 12 hosted by Stetson University College of Law In collaboration with the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, the Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board, and the City of Gulfport. I requested that the City contribute to the program and Council agreed on $1,000.00. For more information on the program, please contact the YMCA by phone at 727-895-9622 or online at https://www.stpeteymca.org/programs/safety-around-water-program/.

On a personal note, I unfortunately had to utilize the Sewer and Water Lateral line program due to a water leak in my slab. Thanks to this program, championed by me and established by my predecessor Yolanda Roman, I received reimbursement for half of the outdoor replumbing costs from the City. The process was straightforward, and special thanks go to our Utilities Director, Sonya Levert, for guiding me through it. Since initiating the process, I’ve been able to assist several other residents in navigating the program.

As part of my responsibilities as a Council Member, I consistently report road and sidewalk issues to the City. Each instance is promptly addressed and resolved. Handling numerous complaints, suggestions, and questions on various City matters, I am committed to being a resource for residents. My City cell phone (727-262-2479) and email (pray@mygulfport.us) are always available for residents’ seeking information or assistance with any issue.

There was only one Gulfport City Council meeting in January. Due to the election cycle and tradition, the agenda was light.

In 2018 I worked with Pinellas YMCA, Stetson University College of Law, Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board, and the City of Gulfport to offer free swimming lessons to children in the area. The offering was a huge success and we had over 100 kids benefit from the program. The program paused in 2019 due to COVID. Last year, the program was resurrected and we again had over 100 kids participating. I am once again working with those same partners for what I hope to be another successful year in 2024.

I attended the Welcome to Gulfport event at Scout Hall which was well attended. Thanks go out to Kelli Minton Garcia and Regina Buscemi for organizing these very beneficial events, especially for the newer residents of Gulfport. The event showcases our police, fire, and emergency services as well as the general workings of the City; if you are a new resident, I recommend the program.

We want to congratulate Gulfport’s Special Operations Sergeant, Robert Burkhart, on the grand opening of his new endeavor, the Cigar Shop. I look forward to sneaking away and enjoying a good Macanudo cigar and great conversation with the locals.

In January, I attended several online discussions on various topics related to Grants, Civic Engagement, and I continue to address neighborhood issues that consume a considerable amount of time. I am also addressing issues businesses and homeowners are encountering with permits and notifying public works of roads that need repair.

 I continued to reach out to State Legislatures in January, regarding bills proposed in Session that may directly affect Gulfport. Including; HB 1537 Short term rentals, HB 609 local Business Tax Bill, CS/HB 777 Municipal Water or Sewer Utility Rates, Fees and Charges, CS/HB 1277 Municipal Utilities, HB 609 Repeal of Local Business Tax.

 In order to work more effectively on City matters, I have chosen to utilize a City cellphone. My new number is (727 262-2479). It is posted on the City’s web page at https://mygulfport.us/city-employee-directory/  my email is pray@mygulfport.us. I am always available to answer any questions you may have. If you need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

 

2023

December historically proves to be a busy month, and this one was no exception. We had two Council Meetings on December 5th and 19th. The meetings featured light agendas due to the election season.

We held a Tree Day, during which the City distributed slash pines for residents to plant on their properties. For those who received a tree, please note that any concerns can be addressed by contacting our on-staff Horticulturist, Toffer Ross (tross@mygulfport.us). Ensuring the health of these distributed trees is in everyone’s best interest. Council members actively participated in a brief ceremony at the Recreation Center, where additional trees were planted. Tree planting at this time of year has become a recurring and personally enjoyable tradition for me in various locations around the city over the last decade or more.

We also attended the Art Jones event, providing an opportunity to explore artists’ studios throughout the city, appreciate the art on display, and even make purchases.

Continuing our annual tradition, we illuminated the City Christmas Tree in Clymer Park. This year saw a marked increase in attendance, particularly among younger children, offering a glimpse of the evolving face of Gulfport.

I had the honor of representing Gulfport at the PARC Demolition of their old building, making way for a new facility to better serve their younger clients. This project, funded by private donors and government contributions (including from Gulfport), is vital given PARC’s strong presence in our City with quite a few Employees and Clients residing in town. It is important for us to support them.

I met with D. Benjamin Barros, the Dean of Stetson Law, and discussed various topics including the continuation of the summer free Safety Around Water program with the YMCA, Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board, and the City of Gulfport. We also explored the possible involvement of Stetson in the Pink Flamingo Home Tour, parking arrangements, and other resident concerns. It was a great conversation, and the City looks forward to continued collaboration with Stetson.

Residents, particularly those in Town Shores, enjoyed the festive Friday evening lighted Golf Cart Parade and the lighted Bike Parade. Such events not only bring joy to residents but also showcase our community as unique and inclusive. Participating in these pop-up events always fills me with pride for Gulfport.

Wesley and I dressed in full Santa Costume and enjoyed visiting all the businesses in downtown spreading some Christmas joy.

As we bid farewell to 2023 with mixed emotions, we look forward to a fresh start in 2024. Wishing all of Gulfport a Happy New Year!

Thanksgiving on the beach was once again a major success with an amazing turnout and a wide selection of food. Thanks to Bob and Tricia Meeks and others who worked to coordinate this annual event. As many know, this was another event that Denise O’Hara left her mark on and for most of us the event brought her memory close to us.

For those who are like me and cannot wrap worth a darn, consider Gift Wrapping at the Senior Center on Dec 6th, 13th and 20th from 2PM to 5PM. This is a great cause, and they do excellent work.

The fall edition of Art in the Yard showcased the talents of numerous local artists, presenting their work across a diverse range of mediums. The events attracted a significant number of visitors.

The Veterans Day Celebration, which fell on a weekend, took place at Veterans Park, featuring the unveiling of memorial bricks. The parade followed, and I had the privilege of serving as the emcee at the Casino, overseeing the annual Volleyball Tournament. For those curious about the outcome of the GPD versus the GFD, the Fire Department maintained its lead in wins.

The City-Wide Yard Sale was once again well attended as we could all tell from the drive-by shoppers and those parking to get a better look. We participated and had a pretty good turnout selling a good number of items.

After a successful Hulloween Block party where we met numerous new residents and an impressive number of children, it was heartening to experience another block party on 56th St S hosted by Kelli and Eric Garcias on the day after Thanksgiving. Meeting both new and longtime residents, enjoying music and food, made for a delightful event. We encourage more neighborhoods to connect with the Garcias or myself for assistance in planning their own block parties. There is probably no better way to meet your neighbors and make new friends than block parties.

 I worked with residents on various issues, addressing concerns such as potholes and intersections that needed attention to ensure safety and accessibility.

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 @ pray@mygulfport.us or by phone at 727 826-7209.

 

Enjoy the fall!

I handle numerous calls related to traffic, parking, and street repairs, directing them to the appropriate City department and ensuring proper follow-up. There has been a lot of complaints regarding parking, particularly instances of blocking residents’ driveways. I hope for increased awareness about parking choices.

I continue to serve on the committee raising funds for a much needed new Senior Center. I am proud that we are making progress thanks to the team from Kinetic and the incredible board members. The group put together a fund raiser “A Night in Italy” at the Casino which was a big success.

I had the pleasure of attending the second “Gulfport Welcome,” organized by Regina Buscemi and Kelli Garcias, what a great job. The event, well-attended and comprehensive, provided valuable information. I strongly recommend attendance, whether for newcomers or long-term residents, as it covers a wide range of services offered by the City, with input from Council Members, Gulfport Police Department, Fire Department, Building Departments, among others.

Collaborating with Pinellas County, the City of Gulfport, and businesses along Gulfport Blvd, I worked on the implementation of new and widened sidewalks. This project addresses the impacts on existing parking and businesses in the plaza, housing Jax In and Out, Deb’s Laundry, etc. We reached a compromise to only close one side of the lot during construction and explored using the back vacant lot for employee parking. The sidewalk widening project spans from 34th St S to 57th St S.

During the two October council meetings, the agenda primarily featured housekeeping items. Council approved funding for dredging the sludge from Tomlinson Park Pond, a routine process to eliminate sludge buildup. Additionally, the City Manager was authorized to contract Stantec Consulting Service for the Gulfport Marina Community Engagement Concept Study. This involves creating a proposal for community input, emphasizing community involvement throughout the process.

To enhance our neighborhoods further, I collaborated with Keli Garcias on the “Hulloween” block party idea proposed by a neighbor on Hull St South. The event fostered connections among residents from throughout the City, with adults mingling over shared food, music, and a DJ. The number of kids was amazing, more than I have seen in the almost 15 years of living here. A great event and one we will be working on having in various neighborhoods in all the wards. Time to build a great community by getting to know your neighbors.

The GMC recently hosted a ribbon-cutting for a new business at 2309 49th St S, underscoring the importance of supporting local businesses. Attending the Lion’s Club Get Lei’d Party was a delightful experience, featuring good food, music, and an opportunity to socialize with friends and neighbors. In keeping with Gulfport’s tradition, the annual Witches Walk and Dance was once again successful.

Annually, we contract with a company to survey the condition of our roads using cameras. From the collected data, a list is generated ranking roads from worst to best, guiding the city in setting a budget-based schedule for road maintenance. The current list of roads is as follows:

  • 54th Street South from 19th Avenue South to Gulfport Blvd
  • 19th Avenue South from 52nd Street South to 58th Street South
  • Tangerine Avenue South from 55st Street South to 57th Street South
  • 51st Way South from 26th Avenue South to End
  • 50th Street South from 24th Avenue South to End
  • 46th Street South from 27th Avenue South to 29th Avenue South
  • 28th Avenue South from 45th Street South to End
  • Quincy Street South from 2631 to End
  • 45th Street South from 27th Avenue South to 29th Avenue South
  • 23rd Avenue South from 56th Street South to 57th Street South
  • 57th Street South from 26th Avenue South to Gulfport Blvd

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 pray@mygulfport.us 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.

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 pray@mygulfport.us 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.

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.

 

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 pray@mygulfport.us or call 727 826-7209, and I’ll be sure to respond to your call or email.

Council Report – April

We did not have a meeting on April 4th as many council members were in Tallahassee for the Legislative Session.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Citizen Issues

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 pray@mygulfport.us.

RV Ordinance

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

2022

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.