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    Commissioners start off light

    Old members say goodbye and the new ones go through an agenda that includes adding an alternate to the growth board.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Outgoing city commissioners J.B. Johnson, Bob Clark and David Hemerick said farewell Thursday night and emotionally thanked administrators, their friends and families for supporting them while they were in office.

    Amid the heartfelt speeches of thanks, Johnson injected a note of humor. He offered unsolicited advice for new commissioners Whitney Gray, Hoyt Hamilton and Bill Jonson, who were sworn in after the previous commission stepped down.

    "One, don't become obsessed with your power," Johnson said. "Those who placed you in the position can also remove you."

    "Two, be yourself."

    "Three, when people come here and stand before you -- or when you receive letters that begin with "the way we did up north . . .' -- just forget it! Forget it! . . . Just say "Thanks.' Be nice to them, and let them move on."

    The outgoing commissioners received several gifts, including appreciation plaques, letters of thanks for serving and their name plates from the commission's chambers. Clark also unwrapped a Yankees cap -- a gag, as he has other loyalties -- while Johnson got a box of Mounds candy bars from city staff.

    Clark and Johnson have served since 1995. Hemerick was appointed last fall. None ran for re-election earlier this month.

    Once the three new commissioners were seated, they tackled an agenda that interim City Manager Bill Horne said he kept light.

    The first item was an ordinance that would revise the city's land development code and give city planners more discretion to allow homeowners flexibility from normal building rules and incorporating the city's new beach plan, Beach by Design.

    The commission also decided to add an alternate member to the city's Community Development Board, which reviews and approves new developments.

    City planners had asked that the alternate be added because board members often have to miss meetings or recuse themselves from decisions because they are working on projects that come before the board.

    Mayor Brian Aungst noted that only about a third of the board's past 17 meetings had full attendance. Once in the past year, a meeting had to be canceled because a quorum of five of the seven board members was not present.

    Another problem is that four votes are necessary -- even when there are only five members present -- to approve any project before the board, City Planning Director Ralph Stone said.

    The most often absent member of the board was Architect Alex Plisko, who missed five of the past 17 meetings. Members Gerald Figurski, Ed Mazur Jr. and David Gildersleeve each missed three, records show.

    Mazur also had to recuse himself from decisions seven times -- more than any other member -- because his engineering firm, Florida Design Consultants, was working on projects on the agenda.

    Neither Mazur nor Plisko could be reached for comment Thursday.

    Commissioner Ed Hart was the only commissioner to vote against adding the alternate. Hart suggested the city should consider changing the time or days of the board's meetings to make it easier for members to attend.

    In other business, the commission approved a project to extend the length of the runway at the Clearwater Airpark to allow planes to fly higher over neighborhoods nearby, reducing noise.

    And for a large portion of the meeting, commissioneres read the titles of ordinances to annex 17 small enclaves into the city.

    "Anyone still awake out there?," Mayor Brian Aungst said at one point in the readings.

    "It does get more exciting than this," Aungst told the new commissioners. "Commissioner Hart and I promise you that."

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