Pinellas Park votes to end isolation
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
PINELLAS PARK -- After an abrasive discussion among City Council members, Pinellas Park reversed its position and will participate in the American Assembly, a gathering designed to plot future relations between the cities and the county.
Sandra Bradbury, the newest council member, will be the city's elected representative on the assembly. For citizen representatives, the council chose Cecil Bradbury, former mayor and father of Sandra, and Housh Ghovaee, who is not a resident but is a former president of the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce and has received awards for promoting the city.
Pinellas Park also will contribute at least $1,000 to the yearlong process, which is scheduled to begin next month. Officials from Pinellas cities and representatives from the county's unincorporated areas are expected to discuss such topics as annexation, tourism and business development.
The three council members who supported joining the assembly spoke of the isolation the city and its staff were suffering as the only municipality outside the process.
"Everybody else is involved," Mayor Bill Mischler said. "We have a lot to offer. A lot of these mayors look up to this city, believe it or not. . . . They want us to participate."
Patricia Bailey-Snook acknowledged that she had been opposed to the assembly until recent discussions with Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder and other elected officials. Some of the issues that will be hashed out, she said, could end up as state law.
The city needs "to have some input and see if we can guide where we want our county to go," Bailey-Snook said. "It's not a mandatory thing. We can always walk away."
Sandra Bradbury said that recent events have shown that poor relations between Pinellas Park and the county only hurt the city.
"We need to, in some shape or form, get involved," Bradbury said.
City Manager Jerry Mudd also gave his endorsement for a process that "is something different from the democratic process we have known in this country."
His colleagues' change of heart seemed to enrage council member Rick Butler.
In a loud voice, he asked Bradbury what recent events she was talking about.
She referred to a County Commission decision to take the first step to moving annexation planning area boundaries in the Lealman Fire District, thus reducing Pinellas Park's opportunities for growth.
Neighboring cities, Pinellas Park included, oppose such a change.
Earlier in the week, Butler and Mischler said they didn't mind losing land available for annexation so much as they objected to the county changing boundaries that voters established two years ago. It's the principle, they said.
On Thursday, Butler characterized the line move as "a lot of games being played."
He also included in his criticism the "Farkas bill," a proposal by state Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, to temporarily force cities that annexed into the Lealman Fire District to continue paying that body the fire tax for a limited time.
The bill is awaiting the signature of Gov. Jeb Bush, who has asked the cities involved for their comment. Pinellas Park has sent a letter opposing the Farkas bill.
Now, Butler said, the city is being "threatened" with the possibility that some issues the American Assembly resolves may also become law, but he acknowledged that a majority of the council didn't appear to agree with him: "Obviously, we're changing direction."
Butler said he objected to having such a group form policy, but he told Bradbury he'd make a motion to have her serve and would recommend the city contribute money to the group.
"I don't have time to sit in three days of meetings that's not going to do anything," Butler said. As he made his motion, his enunciation was precise, the words marching out of his mouth.
Butler, Bailey-Snook, Mischler and Bradbury voted in favor. Ed Taylor, who was silent during the debate, opposed.
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