For the first time since March 2, the Safety Harbor City Commission was back at City Hall for its regular meeting Monday night, with most of the Commissioners, city staff and residents in attendance wearing masks and distanced as far from each other as possible.
But whether Commission will continue in-person meetings is an open question, as it discussed at length at the end of the meeting whether it should go back to Zoom video meetings that had been the norm for the past couple of months, continue in-person or come up with some hybrid model where Commissioners would be in person but residents could participate remotely.
Commissioner Andy Zodrow said he had residents tell him they wanted to come to Monday’s meeting but decided against it as Florida is seeing the number of COVID-19 cases increasing as the state continues to reopen its economy.
In response to questions from Commissioners, City Manager Matthew Spoor said the city could renew its monthly account with Zoom, the video conferencing app that many people, including Commission, used for meetings during the crisis, at a cost of $500 a month. But Spoor and City Attorney Nikki Day also cautioned Commission that unless Gov. Ron DeSantis extends his order allowing for Commissions to meet remotely, it will expire on June 30 and Commission will be compelled to meet in person.
Mayor Joe Ayoub then asked about other options for residents who wanted to participate but didn’t feel comfortable doing so in person, including using Zoom’s “Raise Your Hand’ feature or calling into a special phone number to be heard. Spoor said he was hesitant with that sort of hybrid approach, as earlier in Monday’s meeting a quasi-judicial hearing had to be tabled because city staff was not able to patch the applicant in via Zoom. Spoor also said the city doesn’t have an apparatus presently to allow for call-ins, but he would investigate how that might work and what it would cost.
Commission has a series of audit and budget workshops on June 29, but will not meet for a regular meeting again until July 20 as it annually skips its first meeting in July in observance of Independence Day.
Prior to Monday’s regular meeting, Commission held its annual Goal-Setting Workshop to further discuss some issues it previously had discussed as well as any new ideas Commissioners had.
Commissioners were unanimous in wanting to move forward on these ideas:
Diversity Council: Spoor detailed to Commission how the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Committee works, acting as a body to hear concerns from residents and make recommendations to not only to its commission, but also to other agencies and governmental bodies.
Baranoff Park easement: Championed by Zodrow, a covenant agreement with Pinellas County would prevent any future development on the site of the Baranoff Oak and Baranoff Park.
Bishop and Mullet creek erosion: At the top of the workshop, Spoor said he met with the Army Corps of Engineers earlier in the day and it agreed verbally to pay for a study of erosion problems along both creeks that Commission had previously approved.
Stop signs at Main Street and 2nd Avenue: With the increase in traffic at this busy intersection, Commission was united in wanting to see stop signs installed there. But during the regular meeting, Commission voted 3-2 against moving forward on it immediately. Ayoub, Zodrow and Commissioner Nancy Besore said they were in favor of the stop signs, but voted “no” because they wanted it to be an agenda item at a future meeting so residents could weigh in on it first.
Landscaping and streetscaping: Ayoub said he had heard from some residents who wanted to see more attention on landscaping and streetscaping, especially at high-profile parks in town.
Some of the topics discussed where consensus wasn’t immediately reached were:
Ready for 100 implementation: Commission previously voted to commit the city to this initiative to move to completely renewable energy sources and develop a plan to do so. One of the possible steps toward that is to hire a Sustainability Officer, but with budget discussions looming this summer that are expected to be difficult in light of lost revenue from COVID-19, some Commissioners wanted to wait to see how those played out and whether they are ways to piggy-back off of other cities’ efforts. Commission, though supportive of the idea, also wanted to wait until it had a larger discussion before adding language proposed by Zodrow to ensure that lower-income residents benefit from the initiative.
Golf carts: Commissioner Carlos Diaz wondered whether there was a way to connect some of the city’s northern neighborhoods to downtown with a golf cart path, which morphed into a larger discussion on golf carts. During the regular meeting, Spoor told Commission that staff’s recommendation, if Commission wanted the city to take over golf cart registration, would be to copy all state regulations so the only difference would be that the city’s lone Code Enforcement Officer would be responsible for enforcement rather than Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies. Commission decided not to move forward on that idea.
Other possible goals raised by Commissioners included additional Waterfront Park amenities, including misters or hoses to wash sand off of feet, more walkability and biking improvements, adding additional grand tree protections to the city’s tree ordinance and a business zone that would help promote minority-owned businesses.
OTHER ACTION TAKEN
COVID-19 financial assistance to residents and businesses: Commission had been discussing this at length at its past meetings, but tabled indefinitely additional discussion on it until Pinellas County exhausts its federal CARES Act money, as it is possible the city might qualify for some later that would help pay for any possible initiatives. However, Commission did vote 5-0 to approve a $15,000 marketing grant to the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce. The chamber will add $5,000 to the program and will receive a $5,000 matching grant from Visit Florida, so will have $25,000 to use to encourage local and regional visitors to spend their time and money in Safety Harbor.
Conditional use request for tourist home at 85 7th St. N: Florida Flats Realty Group LLC was requesting permission to operate a tourist home at this address. Commission tabled the hearing until July 20 after city staff was unable to get a clear Zoom or phone connection to the applicant.
2019 Volunteer of the Year: William Schumacher of the Board of Trustees for Firefighters Pension Trust Fund was honored as the top volunteer from among those who serve on city advisory boards.
Mayor’s Award of Excellence: Allison and Dan Thompson were honored for improvements they made to their home at 1305 Roxbury Drive, which included landscape pavers, a seating area, landscaping and lighting.