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Self-centered Gibson must learn to behave

A Times Editorial
Published September 9, 2007


For a few minutes Thursday, it appeared that members of the Clearwater City Council might come to blows.

The instigator: council member Paul Gibson who, though he has been in office five months, hasn't learned how to behave. So like stern parents, the other members of the City Council gave him a scolding.

He had it coming. Gibson's behavior Thursday was out of bounds.

The council was preparing to vote on a modified plan by JMC Communities, developer of the new Sandpearl resort hotel and condominium tower on Clearwater Beach, to build boat docks in the former yacht basin on the bay side of the island, on submerged city-owned land.

JMC originally planned to build 54 slips, with 33 leased to Sandpearl guests and residents and 21 built for the public, at no cost to the city.

But next door to the boat basin is the ritzy Belle Harbor condominium complex, and some of those residents opposed the dock project. Some thought 54 slips overcrowded the boat basin, where, by the way, Belle Harbor has its private boat docks. Other Belle Harbor folks didn't like the idea of public docks near their complex or that the public docks would be open from 5 a.m. to midnight. They were worried about crime, noise and drunken behavior by the public boaters.

So JMC downsized the project to 42 slips, with 15 reserved for the public, and it was that proposal the City Council reviewed Thursday.

A handful of beach residents spoke against the docks, but the most outspoken by far was council memberGibson, who happens to live in Belle Harbor.

Because he lives there, Gibson should have taken pains to be objective, perhaps even letting the other four, less emotionally involved council members take the lead in the discussion.

But no, Gibson took it on. He said he wasn't bothered by the private slips that would be leased out to residents of the luxury high-rise condominiums across the street - people whom he said "we will know or will be learning to know as they move in and become part of the community."

"What troubles me is the public portion," he said, and he added that before voting on the project, the council should talk about reducing the hours the public docks would be open, rules for their use, monetary fines for violators, details of enforcement, security cameras and "human" security.

For just 15 public slips.

"Let's start with the hours," he said, to which Mayor Frank Hibbard responded that he was the person running the meeting, not Gibson.

Council member Carlen Petersen told Gibson, "I know you live there, ... but we have to look at the entire city and the interests of the entire city. It can't all be about what you want."

Unbelievably, Gibson replied that those 15 slips could "ruin the lives" of the Belle Harbor residents and that the City Council was obligated to consider their wishes.

The following interchange had observers waiting for an agitated Gibson to throw a punch:

Hibbard: "One of the things that bothers me about what you're saying is it's the classic Florida disease, which is, 'I've got mine, and I don't want you to have yours.' To me, it sounds somewhat elitist that you're going to be fine with the people who are leasing the (private) slips and ... "

Gibson: "That's got nothing to do with it!"

Hibbard: "Excuse me, sir. I am speaking, and you will wait your turn."

Gibson: "You want to go at it over this? Go ahead."

Hibbard: "Or what?"

Gibson: "Or we'll have the dialogue loudly like you seem to want to have. Go ahead. ... I will give you whatever time you want."

Hibbard: "You don't have to give me time. I run the meetings. Do you understand that?"

Gibson: "I understand that. I also understand I was elected."

The interchange ended abruptly when council member George Cretekos made a motion to approve the dock project, saying later that he did so because he was afraid a physical fight was about to erupt.

Gibson, the only nay vote, said he felt betrayed by Cretekos, who took office with him in March, and felt that he had been shut up by the mayor. Cretekos told Gibson he needed to read Robert's Rules of Order. Petersen called his conduct "unprofessional and uncalled for." And Hibbard denied shutting up Gibson and suggested he watch the tape of the meeting to see the proof.

"We'll both look at the tape," said an obviously unrepentant Gibson.

It wasn't just Gibson's tone that was disturbing; it was also his thinking.

Clearwater doesn't have a ward system. All five City Council members are elected at large to represent the entire city and make decisions in the public's best interest - not in their own self-interest, which is what Gibson was doing Thursday night.

There is great demand for boat slips among Clearwater residents and tourists alike. It is an amenity the city has sought to offer when it can, for boaters who don't have their own docks. But Gibson seems focused on making sure that boaters using public docks are subject to draconian monitoring and control, even in a tourist district.

Gibson's worries about public boaters - concerns he does not have about his wealthy condo neighbors - is elitist. Will he next suggest that access by the unwashed public to Clearwater Beach should be limited, while people who live on the island and therefore are surely tidier and quieter should have unfettered access? After Thursday's performance, it is not difficult to imagine Gibson thinking about it.

[Last modified September 9, 2007, 01:44:06]

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