Animals in park raise stink

Tarpon officials say deception was used to get a carnival petting zoo and pony rides.

Published May 31, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS -- Some say it was an oversight. Others cry "deliberate deception."

Whatever the case, one thing is certain: There will be pony rides and a petting zoo in Craig Park this weekend. Even though city commissioners don't want them there.

The mixup centers on the Chamber of Commerce's Water Sports Carnival and Illuminated Fleet Parade, an event that has already caused its share of controversy. Pinellas County auditors released a memo in April questioning whether the chamber inappropriately used grant money to market last year's event.

That didn't stop the commission from approving this year's carnival, set to run this Friday through Sunday at Spring Bayou.

But the move brought some unintended -- and furry -- consequences.

As staff explained during a Tuesday night workshop, the commission, on staff advice, signed off on the event, overlooking a confusing line on the application form that mentioned animals.

"I think their screwup was intentional," said Mayor Beverley Billiris of the chamber, just one of several officials who claimed the group produced a misleading application form.

Chamber president Theajo "TJ" Davis countered that she just "filled in the blanks."

When city staff called in confusion, after seeing animals mentioned in promotional materials, she pointed out the animals reference on the first page of the application.

Davis put a "30" behind the word "animals" in a section that asks how many vehicles, animals and floats would be used in the park. But she also put "water" above the word floats, which came immediately after animals.

Though the number is in the correct blank (the one designated for animals) staff said the word "water," typed in above floats, seemed to indicate the number was referring to water floats.

The blank space next to the floats category is not marked.

The markings seem "sneaky and underhanded and deceptive" Commissioner Robin Saenger said Tuesday, re-examining the form.

Davis defended her application, saying she did indeed type in "water" to indicate there would be water floats, but did not include a number because the Coast Guard -- not the city -- is ultimately responsible for water activities.

Given the short time line, commissioners agreed to allow animals in the park for this event. Davis said vendors would put down wood shavings to protect the ground and efficiently dispose of any animal waste.

But officials will probably draft future restrictions regarding animals in the park. They also plan to draft a pointed letter to the chamber.

"We're tired of their lack of professionalism," Billiris said.