Gulfport Mayoral Candidates Debate Issues at City Hall

Gulfport Mayoral Candidates Debate Issues at City Hall

On Tuesday night Gulfport mayoral candidates Sam Henderson and Bob Worthington met in city council chambers to debate issues brought forth by those in attendance. Each candidate had up to one minute to respond to each question.

The League of Women Voters would not give the Gabber photocopies of the questions submitted or allow the Gabber to see the questions. When asked, League member Mary Berglund said they didn’t have the questions as they were asked as the League reworded the questions for various reasons.

When asked, neither candidate knew the questions were not read as submitted by members of the audience.

Readers should not expect this summation of the debate to serve as a transcript. For a full video of the debate, please read this story online and look for the link. The questions below and answers are not full representations of the one-hour debate. Direct quotes are indicated with quotation marks; things summarized – including parts of the questions – have brackets around them if they appear inline with the candidate’s words. Things not in quotation marks are not direct quotations. The Gabber has made every effort to get the sentiment of the questions accurately represented as well as candidate comments. Please watch the full video and speak with the candidates to make a more fully informed decision about your vote.

Click here to watch the video in its entirety.

What makes you the right candidate for mayor?
Bob Worthington (BW): “I’m fully retired. I have all the time to do the things that are required as a mayor. I have experience and knowledge and I’ve made a lot of connections over the years.... I just feel like the timing is good, my experience is there, my knowledge is there, and I have the available time.”
Mr. Worthington mentioned several inter-city and -county agencies on which he served.
Sam Henderson (SH): “I feel like I’m ready to be mayor and eager to be mayor...... many of the agencies Mr. Worthington just mentioned I serve on as well.. I’ve really enjoyed the work I’ve gotten to do here and I feel like in four years we’re moving in the right direction. I feel like the demographic of Gulfport has changed... I may have not has had as much free time as Mr. Worthington... I’ve found time to make time for this job and I want to continue to do so.”

What is your feeling on using the city’s cash reserves to balance the budget?
Editor’s Note: Gulfport’s charter currently requires the city to keep the equivalent of 25% of its budget in reserves.
SH: “I feel like that money belongs to the people of Gulfport... We’re sitting at well above 40%... I’d like to see us use some of that money wisely.”
BW: “I believe that the money should stay in reserve... If you look back at Hurricane Sandy... if we were to have one of those type of storms here, we need those reserves... every bit of those reserves, just to sustain the city and keep it moving forward.”

How many abandoned or long vacant properties are there in Gulfport? Are these a concern [for the city]?
BW: “I couldn’t tell you exactly how many there are, but it is a concern... I’ve had several residents voice that concern... they’ve shown me the properties.. I think the city needs to find out who the foreclosure is and make them responsible for those properties.”
Mr. Worthington spoke about snakes and other vermin at vacant properties and resident concern.
SH: “I agree... We need to follow up and do our enforcement... Additionally one thing we did in recent years is we changed our solicitation policies.”
Mr. Henderson talked about the city’s law that businesses and people cannot leave unsolicited flyers or information at any Gulfport property, which accumulate on vacant properties.

Can you tell me what steps should be taken in protecting the Clam Bayou area?
SH: “I was a big supporter all the way through and I made no secret of it... That’s a body of water that’s been slowly contaminated over a century and it’s not something that’s going to be [cleaned up] all at once...We still have untreated stormwater and runoff going into it. Yes, it’s something that needs to be addressed. No. it’s not done yet.”
Mr. Henderson supported the state’s “restoration” of the bayou, which involved redesigning the flow of water in the bayou among other efforts. He also suggested that the city use BP oil money to further improve Clam Bayou.
BW: “I think there’s definitely improvements made. We have the documentation. The sediments that are in there have been running into the bayou for a long time. The $17 million that Swiftmud and Swim [spent] …. went into the St. Pete side. They actually did very little in Gulfport. I think they had other things going on there... I’d hate to see the money that Sam spoke of from the BP Oil thing be used for that purpose.”
SWIM refers to Surface Water Improvement and Management, a program that is part of “Swiftmud”, or the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).

Are there any plans to increase the library budget and by how much?
BW: “I don’t know the answer to that question I know that we are adding an outdoor area.”
SH: “Yeah, the Circle of Friends actually made the” [outdoor garden possible].

Do you believe that our local Boy Scout troop must abide by the Human Rights Ordinance?
SH: “Absolutely. What I feel we have right now is an excellent opportunity”...[if the Scouts here agree to abide by the Human Rights Ordinance] “I say we keep Pack 300 and let them be a model for the national Boy Scouts who have yet to make the right decision on this.”
BW: “I believe we have to wait until May to see what national Boy Scouts does...”

What is your perception of crime within our city limits...?
BW: “I think the perception of crime is that we do have crime. We need to restructure our policing in a certain way, I don’t know exactly what it is... We need to work more with neighborhood watches... we have people that go to our citizen’s college and the we don’t utilize them:
SH: “I have great faith in our Police Department.”

If elected would you be a vocal opponent or proponent of a light rail system in Pinellas County?
SH: “I would have to see the plan, but if there was certainly a way to do it, I think it’s a nice alternative [to US19]... but certainly I don’t think it’s something Gulfport can fund on its own.”
BW: “I have seen the maps of what they have laid out and I would oppose it because it’s all north county...I don’t think it would be a benefit.”

Would you vote yes or no for a mooring field and please explain why.
BW: “I would vote yes. The plan right now, they’re talking about strictly using sailboats. It would be almost impossible for a sailboat to come up to a mooring and make mooring.”
SH: “I’ve been very clear about being against the mooring field… the reasons...are economic... now that we’re talking about a reduced footprint, I think it’s a more reasonable approach. I have had a hard time in the past three years justifying that cost when other people are having a hard time getting by.”

Under what circumstances would you privatize any city service?
SH: “Frankly, I am a big fan of us being a full service city. i think we should do more things with what we have. Once we privatize, then it’s no longer ours.”
BW: “I believe pretty much the same way. I believe that we are a full service city and we’re very proud of that fact. By contracting something out to another company, we would lose if we did – our garbage department, we would lose our garbage trucks and all our facilities for doing that, and if it didn’t work out we’d have to buy all new stuff.”

What are your thoughts and plans for activating public art in Gulfport?
BW: “I think we activate public art and we work on it every day. I think it’s great.”
SH: “I think we’ve done a good job, not only as a city but as a community.  We have a lot of artists who have been very active in the community.”

Be specific. What would you do within the Waterfront District to increase revenue?
SH: “Kind of formalize some of our beach if we do something with our physical space... better parking... I’d like to bring in some non-vehicular traffic. We’re really missing an opportunity to extend that trail spur in and bring some non-veh traffic into downtown.”
The “trail spur” refers to the spur of the Pinellas Trail that bisects Gulfport.
BW: “I know in my time of travel today I seen two bicycle groups come into town and they both ate here in Gulfport.... My easiest idea is that we lease the Casino to the Seminole Indians and you don’t pay taxes then, but that’s not the practical thing... we do as many events as we can do... how we’re going to increase the money for down there I just don’t know.”

How can the 49th Street corridor be improved?
BW: “I can’t answer where there there has been anything like that...The business areas, they’ve got the same problems as downtown  Gulfport: they’re smaller properties with little parking.”
SH: “That’s our industrial backbone of Gulfport... that’s never going to be a Beach Boulevard … We’re starting to get community buy-in in that area.”

Would you support yearly reviews for all city management and staff?
SH: “Every day that you speak with them is a review... I have no problem reviewing people if it’s something they want... I feel that there’s a need for accountability... I feel like that’s something that can be dealt with without a formal process.”
BW: “I don’t know that I would. I do think it’s very subjective.”

What would be your first priority (to be completed in two years time)?
BW: “Work in the infrastructure... that’s the water pipes, the sewer lines that are in the ground.”
SH: “I’ve got some real concerns with traffic safety for pedestrians and bicyclists coming across Gulfport Boulevard.”

Should local taxes and fees be increased to pay for improvements?
SH: “I don’t see the need right now for the city to take in any more ad valorem... user fees are something I do prefer altering. I think there’s other ways to get revenue.”
Mr. Henderson spoke of grant monies from BP and other agencies.
BW: “No I don’t think we need to raise taxes. As far as the infrastructure, I think we can do a lot with grants.”

Would you support a PRIDE event in Gulfport?
BW: “Absolutely I would.”
SH: “That’s easy. Yes.”

Is your political philosophy more conservative or more progressive?
SH: “I’d have to say progressive.”
BW: “I’m all over the place. I really am.”

This is a nonpartisan race. Have you accepted any donations from any political party?
BW: “No I have not.”
SH: “I have accepted money from the Democratic party.”

Do you favor term limits for mayor and for council? Explain your reasoning.
SH: “I think the election is the term limit. I’m not a favor of term limits.”
BW: “I don’t necessarily agree with term limits either. If you really get involved in what you’re doing, you’re making a lot of personal connections... To throw a four-year term limit on that, you’re making somebody start over again.”

What are your feelings regarding the Senior Center and what are you willing to do to reassure [residents that it will remain]?
BW: “I love our Senior Center. I think we need to do whatever it takes to not only work with the Senior Center but the Fundation down there to be the best it could be.”
SH: “I’m a big fan of the Senior Center and willing to support the Senior Center in whatever way” [they deem best.]

Why should I vote for you?
SH: “It’s a very important place to me... It’s the kind of place I haven’t gotten to live in since I was a child. This has been my effort at civic engagement...I care.”
BW: “I’ve been here all my life. I’ve volunteered in this community most all my life... at a very early age I was volunteering for various things. The family has been involved in the city. When I finally got retired from my job I found that I had the time...”[to run for office.]

What would voters be surprised to learn about your ideas or opinions about Gulfport moving forward?
BW: “I don’t keep anything a secret. We have a lot of feral cats in Gulfport... I think we need to start a program to capture feral cats, give them a wellness exam, and spay and neuter them and return them back to the neighborhood.”
SH: “I’d be surprised if there’s anything I could say that would be surprising.”

If we are awarded funds from the BP claim, how would you use them?
SH: “There’s the two, there’s the RESTORE act and the claim”.
Mr. Henderson said he would beautify the beach, improve the marina, address wastewater lines, and address Clam Bayou.
BW: “I’d like to see us also address part of the infrastructure... Maybe invest some of that money ...we’ve got some roads in Gulfport that are just terrible...maybe to do the mooring field. I don’t think the BP money is enough money to do Clam Bayou; I think we need federal help with that.”

Closing statement:
BW: “Gulfport is very unique and wonderful town. I think we have new homes, old homes, condos... we have all these wonderful things here in town... and all the weird events and the fun events that we have throughout the year that keep us kind of quirky...One thing I’d like to see, last year the city council voted to have the ability to say that they could do away with the police department. I’d like that change where the city council could ask for a referendum of the people. I don’t believe that five people setting up here should make the decision; it should be the people... I would like very much to do a very good job for you.”
SH: “I will say this, your last comment, Bob, that’s actually more protection given to the police department then was given when you were on council... I’m very glad that you came out tonight...I am very excited to be doing this race again... when I started doing this four years ago I certainly wasn’t thinking about being mayor. I’m very much attached to this city...”

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