Safety Harbor Elections: A Tradition Like No Other
SAFETY HARBOR – Another spring, another local election.
What did such a fine little town as Safety Harbor do to deserve this?
To suggest Safety Harbor elections are opportunities for citizens to voice contrasting opinions is a lot like saying the Coronavirus may cause flu-like symptoms. Over the years, as this north Pinellas County town of 18,000 on Old Tampa Bay struggled to find a comfortable balance between its once quaint but blighted past and its recent discovery as “The Jewel of Tampa Bay” (and the growth that comes with it) local politics turned dramatically into a bad Jason Bourne sequel.
Before an election a few years ago, the SH status-quo, anti-growth side went so far as to throw dog poop into numerous homes at new construction sites to protest the increase in new downtown residences. Then there was a “property shaming” campaign, where new residents and their new homes were insulted and identified on social media. There was also the big lie: blaming a controversial condo project on current Mayor Joe Ayoub, despite the project having been approved more than a dozen years before Ayoub first ran for SH public office.
And, finally, who can forget the “Newcomers aren’t welcome here!” that appeared on, of all places, Nextdoor.com? Nothing says “Welcome, new neighbor,” quite like a freshly baked apple pie spiked with Ex lax. It’s not like grandma used to make.
Not to be left out of all this jocular hi-jinx, an opposing group of progressive, pro-growth residents finally organized and three years ago struck back during election season with a satirical Facebook page featuring memes, editorial cartoons and cynical wit.
One particular meme, now forever ingrained in SH political history as “The Hitler Video,” drew reactions that ranked anywhere from boiling hate to supportive hysterics.
The meme, taken from the 2004 movie “Downfall,” was set during the Battle of Berlin in World War II when Nazi Germany was on the verge of defeat, and depicts the final days of Adolf Hitler.
It has since become the product of endless parodies called “Hitler Rants,” where the German dialog is dubbed with sub-titles, making light of almost any subject or cause.
Although the SH version never referenced the candidate as Hitler – only a subject of Hitler’s ranting – reaction from the targeted side went from zero to boiling point in seconds.
But in another case of “Only in Safety Harbor …” it was later learned that the candidate who felt offended and angry at “being called Hitler” in such a “disgusting video” years earlier had “Liked” a Facebook post of the exact same meme when it was used to poke fun at a college football team’s most fierce rival.
And now, March 17, Election Day is only weeks away. What can possibly live up to such a rich Safety Harbor tradition?
Funny you should ask.
Say hello to Tanja Vidovic.
“If you see Tanja Vidovic out there, I would not look at her. I would not talk to her. She’s looking for something,” SH commissioner Carlos Diaz, also up for re-election, said during a recent city commission meeting that dealt with a public she-said, he-said dispute between the candidate and a city board member volunteer. “You see her, you should run.”
Vidovic, a Tampa Fire Fighter in her late 30s, has no previous political experience at any level, has never served on a city government voluntary board and has no recorded experience managing any budget larger than her household account.
She does, however, own an extensive resume’ of conflict and controversy.
Law suits, discrimination charges, and allegations of bullying and threats have followed her like bloodhounds on a hunting scent. Public records compiled by www.InformedSafetyHarbor.com show Vidovic has sued multiple employers, including the Tampa Fire Department. Vidovic made multiple unsubstantiated complaints against co-workers. Vidovic claims the city retaliated against her after the complaints.
She did receive a settlement and returned to duty two years ago. In the time since, she has filed 18 more claims against the Tampa Fire Department, with only one substantiated – a co-worker using a foul word after finding his lunch had been taken out of the firehouse refrigerator.
Following the 2018-2019 investigation, the TFD report stated:
“Firefighter Vidovic has consistently failed to recount critical information necessary for the City to properly investigate her claims of improper treatment. Additionally, she was not forthcoming with documentations when ordered to provide it. … Firefighter Vidovic’s account of events is routinely different from that of witnesses to the same event. Witness accounts are consistently more credible.”
And since becoming a resident of Safety Harbor, she has been removed by sheriff deputies and then banned from Phillppe Park for harassing workers over the use of pesticides, is charged with bullying neighbors over their use of a mosquito treatment company and was fired from a part-time position with the City of SH for threatening and bullying a co-worker. She then falsely claimed SH Mayor Joe Ayoub, who she is now running against, fired her. (Safety Harbor’s governing structure does not give a mayor power to hire or fire city employees.)
Meanwhile, during Ayoub’s mayoral reign, Safety Harbor has experienced the greatest boom time in its 103-year history. The first new construction on Main Street in 10 years was completed late last year, and the results are stellar: a three-story, mixed-use project that brought high-end Key West-style architecture, three trendy, new restaurants, 24 luxury apartments, offices and additional parking spaces to downtown.
Across the street, the new Baranoff Park was recently created and dedicated, saving the Baranoff Oak, the oldest oak tree – estimated between 300 and 500 years of age – in Pinellas County and adding green space in downtown. Also, improvements have continued on developing Waterfront Park – which languished before Ayoub, a CPA, was elected – and a major expansion has been completed to the city recreation center. A tree-planting initiative has added 100s of oaks to the city landscape festival and special events are turning the once over-looked community into a destination for visitors.
And, throughout this boom, city taxes remain the lowest in Pinellas County, homeowner property values have soared and new businesses and residents arrive steadily – all adding to the city’ coffers, which improves quality of life.
Even the Hallmark Network came to Safety Harbor last year to film a movie – “Love in the Sun.”
“The choices in this election are stark,” popular former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said when offering Ayoub his endorsement. “If you want conflict and constant controversy, you have an option. If you want more drama, more divisiveness, more dysfunction in city government, you have an option. If you want strong leadership that cares about your community, that is thoughtful, that doesn’t do drama and lives to make Safety Harbor a better place, vote for Joe Ayoub.”
Nevertheless, there is at least one who remains unimpressed.
Shelly Schellenberg, a long-time negative and outspoken voice for status quo and zero growth recently dug deep into her thesaurus to post this on her Facebook page:
“Deceitful. Not to be trusted – double-dealing – treacherous – traitorous – two-faced – unfaithful – duplicitous – unprincipled – unscrupulous – corrupt – shady – shifty – underhanded – unreliable – undependable – capricious – fickle – slippery – iffy – dodgy – shocky folks abusing their power right now. Take this opportunity to vote. Safety Harbor needs NEW and BETTER leadership.”
It’s a crazy time of the year – deserved, or not.
Jonathan, thank you for your excellent comments. They are all right on target. You hit every point exactly perfect that I have nothing else to say.
This article seems highly opinionated, but the points are valid. I know this is another politician’s slogan, but Joe Ayoub gets the job done. He has a proven record of objectively improving virtually every aspect of life in Safety Harbor–a tremendous feat considering the decades of stagnation and decay that preceded him–and he hasn’t to my knowledge done anything objectionable. Based on the talking points I’ve heard from Tanja Vidovec’s campaign, I think it is safe to assume she represents the school of thought that Safety Harbor needs to go back to dying on the vine, which some people falsely equate to “small town charm.” Having a downtown with no businesses and no customers is not charming, it’s depressing and quantifiably detrimental to the health of the city. Having a recreation center with no gym and a library with insufficient meeting space is not charming, it’s a disservice to tax-paying residents. Having a waterfront park with no facilities, equipment, or infrastructure of any sort, thus rendering it useless and discouraging anyone from going there, is not charming, it’s just bad. Having vacant lots on Main Street where 3- and 4-story buildings stood in the 1930’s is not charming, it’s a sign that the city has failed, not to mention an eyesore. And the removal of dead and dying trees in order to save the ones that remain–trees with historical significance–is not “turning the city into a concrete wasteland,” especially not when the same city is launching programs to expand the tree canopy. I don’t know how some people don’t understand that, but until they do, it’s important that the rest of us do our part and vote for someone who acts in the city’s best interest.
Well written snapshot of the current dynamics in Safety Harbor Mick. When my wife and I first moved to Safety Harbor in 2013 we enjoyed the endless events for all ages and families. We also enjoyed the integration of multiple parks throughout Safety Harbor. Fast forward seven years later, Joe’s vision and leadership took the basic ingredients we saw in 2013 and delivered a unique and highly sought after city environment that has become “the place to be (and stay).” We have witnessed firsthand the enriched recreational options for all residents whether they would like to quietly relax in the new Baranoff Park, enjoy dinner at one of the many distinctive restaurants or participate in the myriad of frequent events on Main Street. When we share with folks we live in Safety Harbor, they reply, “We Love that City.” This responsive is a direct result of the foresight and diligence of not only our Mayor Joe Ayoub, but also all those involved in our city’s government that share the same vision for Safety Harbor. Well Done Article!
Well said Mick. What a great recap. Most interesting is Shelly’s quote from Saving Safety Harbor; seething negativity, completely unhinged. We saw this erupt again at Mondays commission meeting when Vidovic supporters screamed about years old complaints and social media post from 3-5 years ago. They are furious that some new voices have surfaced to share facts, documented public records about Ms Vidovic. Furious someone is sharing facts about their candidate. Furious someone is pointing out Ms Vidovic’s documented behavior. Instead they want to continue baseless attacks on the Mayor, his supporters, on residents. They want everyone to focus on useless bickering among supporters to avoid focusing on the factual record and behavior of their candidate Ms Vidovic. They scream to quiet the truth so more people can hear their rhetoric of false claims about taxes, misunderstanding of CRA, or people following people, or satirical videos from 3 years ago. Well, for most of us, we value the facts and record and accomplishments of the candidate. The election is about today and the future of Safety a Harbor. Most people share in Mayor Ayoub’s vision that values Main Street vitality over a vacant dirt lot for trash cans and a couple cars.
I am not going to try reiterating what you and others have written more eloquently than I would. I just hope fair minded voters listen to facts, not outright lies and false innuendos .
I returned 15 years ago to the place where I attended elementary and junior high school in the late 50s and early 60s. (still have my pump lamp from Mr. Verran’s shop class). The improvements to the Downtown Area, Waterfront and Parks speak for themselves to anyone willing to listen. I do not understand how some residents and elected officials could be associated with a group that tried to shame newcomers. I remember an election where two candidates posed in front of the houses on Iron Age basically saying not welcome here. Now Iron Age is one of the most picturesque streets in Safety Harbor. Voters please keep Calos Diaz and Joe Ayoub in office to continue this City’s amazing revitalization.
Great article Mick. I am so proud of our City and thrilled how it has evolved. Just walk Lisa’s Court or the new Coastal Cottages. The young man renovating the project is so upbeat. He rents by week, month or longer. Even he inner streets see improvement almost daily.
My husband and I believe in Joe. Just expressing a positive opinion gets you told “your the problem, a liar, lowlife, etc. I have yet to assault any of the candidates but there you are. Asking for proof is like breaking all Ten Commandments. The people supporting the other candidates just don’t get it. They are hurting their chances every time they call people names or make up stories. It will be a good day when Joe wins, the world doesn’t end and Safety Harbor remains “the Jewel of Tampa Bat.
Mr. Elliot your commentary couldn’t be more on point. When we moved here a little over five years ago you could see the incredible potential of this waterfront hamlet but the status quo voices drizzled negativity on that potential claiming Main Street would never change. Well take a walk or bike over to Main Street on any evening nowadays and see the result of Mayor Ayoub’s belief in our Main Street’s potential. I am so excited for the future.
The chaos, controversy and conflict swarming around Ms. Vidovic should give every single resident of Safety Harbor pause. The website InformedSafetyHarbor.com uses facts and public records to knit together a clear picture of a woman who thrives on conflict. Take a moment to ask yourself “how many times have you been fired from a job for lying or mistreating co-workers? or sued your employer? or filed dozens of complaints against your co-workers, or been forcibly removed from a county park?” This is not normal behavior. Then ask yourself how many tax dollars have been burned to deal with these conflicts? Her Miami employer paid, the City of Tampa and the Tampa Fire Department have surely paid. And now, she is on our doorstep. We’ve already literally had multiple meetings and spent countless hours of staff time on her self-serving conflicts including her attack on our arborist. What will we pay to support her chaos when she has the keys to our city.
Thank you Mr. Elliot for using your wit and insight to bring attention to this election. Let’s put our resources towards more vitality on Main Street, more walkable and bikeable initiatives, improvements to our parks and expansion of our tree canopy not into an endless pit of chaos, controversy and conflict that is Tanja Vidovic.
50 Highland Ave
Mick, thank you for that insightful read on the politics of SH. Miss your writings from the old mullet wrapper. All things must change; however SH has a great team of leaders in Ayoub and Diaz, plus he looks fetching in the yellow sportster truck from Seadog Cottage’s. Keep up the good news.
Thank you for this article. Love my town and love it’s current direction. Leaps and bounds over the past few years. Unfortunately There are so many lies being perpetrated against our current administration that are up for election. I cannot stress enough the need to stay the course and keep Carlos Diaz and Joy Ayoub in their respective chairs. Please vote!!!!
Our city has never looked more beautiful and our downtown has never been better than it is right now. When I first moved here more than 15 years ago, our downtown was mostly dead and businesses were constantly going out of business within a year after opening their doors. We had lots of old and dilapidated properties in the downtown area that no one wanted to live in. Now almost all of these old buildings have been fixed up and there are bidding wars to buy the properties due to so many buyers wanting to live here. Everything has changed so positively that I can hardly believe my eyes when I travel throughout the city.
Anybody who says that they don’t want anything to change either was not living here many years ago or has forgotten how it used to be here. Instead of labeling people who pour their money into fixing up our downtown properties as “evil developers”, we need to be thanking these people for the positive transformation they have brought our city. Our property values have never been higher and now we have a beautiful Main Street filled with great businesses and restaurants.
I understand that Tanja has been a Safety Harbor resident for only a few years and was not around to see the old Safety Harbor. She lacks the understanding of how far this city has progressed and how much better it is now than it was before. In contrast, Mayor Ayoub understands that a city either keeps moving forward or it will eventually die. This election is a clear choice between one candidate who is experienced, qualified, understands municipal budgeting and understands how to lead a city of 18,000 residents verses a newcomer to the city who only brings us inexperience, drama, chaos, threatening behavior, and a total lack of understanding of how our city government operates.
As a business owner for 9 years and property owner of an historic building in the heart of downtown, I’d like to say that 9 years ago, when I moved my business here from Clearwater, it was rare to see people walking down Main Street. Traffic was barely existent! After the past 3 years, This sweet town has been transformed into a destination and it’s so exciting to see! Being in the center of Main Street, we get most people stopping in to the shop, and all of them are so complementary of our city and how quaint and beautiful it is! I’m very proud of all the improvements and where this town is headed! Let’s keep this positive attitude going forward!
Great article Mick. When we moved here 7 years ago Main St had very little to offer but still we showed our support for local businesses and became involved in the community and slowly began to meet all the wonderful neighbors around us. We couldn’t be more pleased with our lovely downtown area now and all the new and exciting shops and restaurants and we’re still able to frequent the older ones too. We have the best of both worlds; charm and vitality. I agree with Steven K above who says that now more than ever we need principled leadership invested in our community; those leaders are Joe Ayoub and Carlos Diaz.
I have listened thoughtfully to all the ridiculous accusations and sophomoric pitches over the last few months, and today I’m fed up with the absurdity of it all. Frankly, I had figured there was no way that someone with No record of being meaningfully and positively involved in the city could have any community support. Then I recalled the quote ~ “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. As a 14 year resident (with the intent to be sprinkled in Alligator Lake some day) and business owner, I can confidently say Safety Harbor has never been a better place to live and work. Thank you Mick for taking up your pen! Thank you, Joe and Carlos for continuing to represent our community and its citizens with character and integrity ~ even with the crap being slung. We need to do our part and get off our couches and ensure our voices are heard.
This is great! I love this city so much and downtown is so alive now. People are so happy and we need to continue under our current leadership to continue to thrive! Vote for Joe and Carlos!
Safety Harbor has become one of the most desirable places to live. People are willing to spend more for a home just to live here. So whatever the current commissioners are doing, keep up the good work! Re-elect Mayor Joe Ayoub and Commissioner Carlos Diaz.
Shelly was defining Tanja.
Deceitful. Not to be trusted – double-dealing – treacherous – traitorous – two-faced – unfaithful – duplicitous – unprincipled – unscrupulous – corrupt – shady – shifty – underhanded – unreliable – undependable – capricious – fickle – slippery – iffy – dodgy
Really great piece, and gosh Mick, you look very distinguished with a tie on !!!
Great town; great leadership. Thanks, Joe, for showing us the way.
I’m very proud to be a resident and small business owner in this beautiful city! This article helps to describe the climate of this election, we can only hope most people are not blinded by drama and false information regarding the candidates. I urge each resident to do your research and reach out to the candidates with your questions, be sure your vote is aligned with your hopes for the city and resist the urge to believe gossip designed to make the existing commission look opportunistic. It’s simply untrue, they truly have done an amazing job! We see evidence of it in our day to day lives in beautiful Safety Harbor. I hope our residents all come out to vote so the commission can help to continue to guide this beautiful, friendly town in the right direction.
Great article! Thanks for sharing the truth and insight into all the political drama that we are seeing in Safety Harbor this election.
My family and I moved here from out of state seven years ago. We’re proud to call Safety Harbor home and proud of the leadership that Mayor Ayoub and Commissioner Carlos Diaz represent.
Perhaps at no other time in our history has it been more obvious that what we need is principled leadership invested in our community success. I’m voting to continue the progress we’ve made. There is no question that Main Street is thriving and our town is moving in the right direction.
Shelly Schellenberg and Tanja have to focus on ANYTHING other than how amazing it is to live in Safety Harbor and how much BETTER our Main Street is compared to five – ten years ago.
Safety Harbor used to be a broken promise of potential. Today, Safety Harbor one of the most desirable Gulf Coast communities, thanks in large part to Mayor Ayoub.
Wow has this town changed in three years. It has become the go to place for restaurants , parks, special events and has become a hot live music destination. Downtown is buzzing with people having a great time. I have met so many nice people from the condo building and new apartments.
Well done Mick, I know you couldn’t resist returning to our journalistic roots; You make Safety Harbor a better place; Time to continue the common sense presence of Mayor Ayoub…..well written Mick; enjoyed your accounts of the antics of the idiot segment of Safety Harbor!
Lies, dog poop, neighbor shaming, Hitler videos, oh, my.
We got one helluva town.
Why can’t we all just get along … and vote for Ayoub?
Great piece Mick- thanks for sharing information that has been proven and verified by facts. The lies, conjecture, rumor and fear mongering that continue from the Saving Safety Harbor group and Vidovic are astounding. I’ve heard from Vidovic supporters that Mayor Ayoub gives special treatment to “big developers” ( NOT TRUE); that there is no parking downtown (NOT TRUE); that Mayor Ayoub is going to “allow” big two story houses to take over our downtown (NOT TRUE). Mayor Ayoub has done a remarkable job of leading Safety Harbor into the future and will continue to do so. Please get out and vote and if you love this town, take a few minutes of your time to research the track records of the candidates for Mayor. Don’t let your vote be swayed by the lies and rumors spread by a few angry people.
I understand small town politics can be tumultuous but accusing a commissioner of taking bribes or accepting money for their vote without a shred of evidence is beyond conceivable. Mayor Joe Ayoub has done a fine job with our budget, keeping taxes low, planting numerous trees, promoting art and adding life to our once drab Downtown. Vote for Joe and let’s keep Safety Harbor the desirable community people want to live.
Love our Downtown with all the old & new businesses and love meeting so many new neighbors moving into our community. Welcome all and know there are so many good people that are excited to see you love & enjoy Safety Harbor as much as we all do!