A leader's cookie comment crumbles

Published January 19, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - Rick Butler's speech began as an apology to Mainlands residents but ended with an attack on the county and its commissioners.

"As one person up here, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the county kicking us, slapping us, beating us up, taking us to court over nonsense, over unincorporated areas," the council member said.

"I'm tired of it, and as one person who represents you, the voter, I'm going to start fighting back. . . . We're done. . . . One person on this commission is done putting up with their nonsense."

Butler made his remarks at the end of Thursday's Pinellas Park council meeting. He was responding to Mainlands resident Tim Robinson, who demanded an apology for a statement Butler made in December about a county proposal to limit annexations.

Butler had referred to Lealman's success in getting the county's protection against repeated annexations. He attributed the success to a strong turnout in that unincorporated area when such items come before the County Commission and Legislative Delegation.

Butler suggested that Pinellas Park should get its retirees to turn out for such meetings.

"There's a lot of folks over in Mainlands, you give them a free T-shirt and a cookie, they'll be more than happy to go to a meeting," Butler said at the time.

Mainlands residents were outraged, calling and writing letters to the newspaper.

"I'm here to make three points," Robinson said when he addressed the Pinellas Park council. "Point No. 1, Mr. Butler, we don't need your T-shirt. We don't need your cookies. But thanks for the offer anyway."

Robinson used Point No. 2 to remind Butler and the other council members of Mainlands' impact on the city's economy. The community has more than 3,000 residents, 55 and older, many of whom still work, he said. Those residents spend "millions upon millions" each year at Pinellas Park businesses. They also pay city taxes and franchise fees.

"I imagine the majority of residents in the Mainlands have a greater net worth than Mr. Butler has," Robinson said.

Robinson's third point was that Butler's "arrogant" comments insulted not only to Mainlands residents but all retirees.

"Since he made those comments in a public, open meeting, I think it would be appropriate if he apologized tonight at this open meeting," Robinson concluded.

Butler conceded he made the comment and thanked the Neighborhood Times for printing it.

"I am going to publicly apologize to the folks in Mainlands and to you, sir," Butler said. "But if you thought I was politically correct, you're wrong. It's not going to happen."

He added that he loves Pinellas Park and knows that "my folks in Mainlands" understood his meaning.

"They know when we need them, they will turn out because they love this town just as much as I do and I hope you do, too," Butler said.

Then he attacked Lealman, which lies along Pinellas Park's southern border.

Folks in Lealman pack meetings, he said, so they are "being represented far more than the city of Pinellas Park. They have far more credibility because they fill the chambers at a county (commission) meeting."

Later in his remarks, Butler returned to the topic of Lealman.

"Lealman, at this point of the game, has more credibility with the county than the city of Pinellas Park, the fourth- or fifth-largest municipal government in the county. The only reason that happened is they fill those council chambers."

Butler then said he had faith in "my retirees in Mainlands" and noted that his parents live there.

"It was not meant to be an insult for our retirees. It was meant (as a compliment), saying that you know we can count on you if we need you," Butler said. "If your feelings were hurt, I apologize."

Butler then returned to his theme of the injustices perpetrated against Pinellas Park by the county and Lealman.

The county needs to know that "Pinellas Park is alive and well and tired of getting sand kicked in our face. And that's what's been going on for the last two years," Butler said.

Pinellas Park, he said, has been blameless in the disputes.

"We deserve the respect in this county," he said. "We have done nothing wrong. We have given those people words that we were not going to annex down south. We have not annexed down south and the county continues to go after us like redheaded stepchildren, and I'm not sure that's politically correct."

Butler said he wanted to apologize in advance to redheads because he knew he would be quoted.

He once again apologized to Robinson and promised he would be more politically correct in the future and would be polite if he ever talked to the County Commission.