Either Sam Henderson (right) or Bob Worthington (left) will be Gulfport's next mayor.
We asked both mayoral candidates four groups of candidate- specific questions based on items that have either appeared in the Gabber of that surfaced during recent debates. These are our questions verbatim; likewise, we have printed each candidate’s response in its entirety. Neither candidate had the questions in advance.
Here's what Sam Henderson said.
Often Beach Boulevard seems to be the main focus for politicians. What do you feel is the city’s Achilles heel and how do you fix it, bearing in mind that you will be one person on council?
I think we’ve done better on not focusing everything on Beach Boulevard in recent years and we’ve had some good events that have become annual events on Tangerine Greenway and now that the playground is moved further to the west near the Rec Center it gives more of an area of focus for youth events. So I think if we focus solely on Beach Boulevard, as politicians or public servants, maybe the intent was to focus on bringing people to our businesses, but otherwise I think that would be a mistake because there are other areas that are worthy of attention as well.
As far as our Achilles heel, it’s Gulfport Boulevard just because of the fact that it’s a divider through the city and hopefully through some of the contact we’ve had with the county we’re going to be able to address making that less of a fence between north and south. Our only other Achilles heel that springs to mind is the same struggle that other municipalities are having, which is an ailing economy.
You’re all about the city and the environment but what about crime, vacancies, and code issues in Ward Four? What can you point to that you have initiated to help with those issues?
It’s true that the environment and the community of Gulfport are important to me. Things that I’ve personally pursued to address crime, to address vacancies? I was supportive through voting to apply for the grants to move the police station to 49th Street, which has been thus far unsuccessful, through no fault of our own. I’ve worked with the police department and the city manager to establish our community liaison officer to work with our businesses and residents along the 49th Street corridor, and as far as addressing vacancies from a crime standpoint, I brought forward the resolution that passed restricting unwanted solicitation door to door, because accumulated materials on doorsteps of vacant homes is an invitation for criminal activity.
I also worked with a resident recently by connecting him with the chief of police and the city manager in hopes of revitalizing a Neighborhood Watch program in the Tomlinson Park area. Beyond that, I think the community buy-in that we have had for events in the 49th Street area have just helped show a higher level of activity, and I think that, in and of itself, is a deterrent.
From a code perspective I’ve been having discussions with the Community Development Director and the city manager about revisiting the process for certain kinds of residential variances in order to lessen the burden on residents.
Currently the city charter says Gulfport should have 25% of its budget kept in reserve. At the debate you mentioned you’d take the reserves down to that city-chartered minimum from their current amount of just over 40% of the city budget. Why do you think that’s a good idea?
I didn’t say that I would take it down to the 25%. In fact, I would prefer not to take it down to the 25% but I feel an obligation to at least consider using some portion of our reserve funds if it makes financial sense.
Editor’s note: Upon reviewing the video of the debate, the Gabber determined that Mr. Henderson did NOT say he would take the reserves down to 25%. Mr. Henderson was correct in his statement above that he did not say he favored taking the reserves down to the 25%.
What will the city do if it doesn’t have enough money for a catastrophic event?
If we have a catastrophic event, having 100% of our general fund in reserves would likely not be enough. At that point we will be relying on outside help from state and federal agencies. And the money in reserves is not designated to pay for the repair or replacement of people’s personal property, it is to pay for the repair of the infrastructure and city facilities.
Is 25% enough?
I enjoy the fact that we have more than the 25% that’s required by our city charter. As a city, that puts us in a much better position than the other cities but at the same time, if we are in the position where we have to charge people an undue amount of money to pay our expenses, then I think we’re required to consider the option of easing that burden by spending some of the tax dollars they’ve already given.
What should the charter stipulate about how much money the city keeps in reserves?
I’m comfortable with the 25% as our charter requirement. While it’s always nice to have the ability to have more in reserves, at some point you’re tying the city’s hands to spend as they feel is necessary if you require a greater amount to be in your reserves.
Fecal matter in the bay. Stormwater runoff into Clam Bayou. Toxic sediments in Clam Bayou. As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, don’t tell us about money. Tell us what needs to happen.
I was and still am a great proponent of the project just recently completed by the SWIM program in Clam Bayou. That project reduced the amount of litter and contaminants entering the Bayou and I’m looking forward to seeing long-term confirmation that that is happening. At this point, I feel that we need to address our western watershed of Clam Bayou by revisiting the shelved 49th Street retrofit project. While this was only shelved for Gulfport due to economic reasons (we were unable to come up with matching funds to pay for our end of the work), we have since applied for non-taxpayer grant money through the RESTORE Act. We’ve been given an indication by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program that this project as well as the replacement of ailing wastewater lines are eligible for these monies and that we have a decent chance for receiving some level of funding. Additionally these funds can pay for additional sampling of water and sediments once the project is completed to determine how successful the project was and what further issues need to be addressed.
In short, we need to address our stormwater, wastewater, and runoff issues and further reduce contaminants to the bay, and then continually assess, through monitoring and sampling, how well we are doing with the restoration of our waterways.
Why haven’t you suggested these solutions yet in your two terms as councilmember?
The short answer? I have. Clam Bayou has been a contentious issue since before I won a seat on council. Each time I’ve tried to address issues with Clam Bayou and Boca Ciega Bay in what I believe are environmentally reasonable ways, I have met with resistance from a small vocal minority of residents and the councilmembers who support their agenda. My opponent has historically been one of those councilmembers. Their actions, in my opinion, have actually served as an obstacle to accomplishing real restoration. I will continue to pursue this regardless of who sits on council; my intent is to improve our waterways and to operate responsibly from an environmental and ecological perspective. I’m in it for the long haul.