A “housekeeping” type of city council agenda item turned into a discussion about ethics at Tuesday’s Gulfport City Council meeting. For the first time in recent memory, a council member questioned another councilmember’s choice for appointment to a volunteer board.
Gulfport Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke expressed concerns about a nominee for the Planning and Zoning Board. He cited a March 5 Gabber article, in which local Realtor Delia Davidson said Larry Burke threatened to not allow the owners of a property she represented to develop a vacant lot on Shore Boulevard if they did not remove a Sam Henderson campaign sign.
Tuesday night Ward Two Councilmember Christine Brown nominated Mr. Burke for a position on the city’s planning and zoning board. Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke asked that the nominations be removed from the consent agenda so council could discuss them.
“We have an ethical obligation to insure integrity standards... when we see something that raises questions...we have a responsibility to the citizens of Gulfport,” Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke said.
“I’m flabbergasted. Apparently I didn’t read the article, and I just know Mr. Burke as a professional. I did not read the article but I still believe in him. That’s my choice,” Councilwoman Brown said. She later asked the vice mayor about his comments.
“Were you calling into question my integrity?” Councilwoman Brown asked Vice Mayor Liedtke.
“I wasn’t questioning your integrity at all,” Vice Mayor Liedtke.
“To me that was politics, not how somebody would perform on planning and zoning,” Ward Three Councilwoman Jennifer Salmon said. “I’m very comfortable with the nomination.”
“My issue here is that if someone’s coming to a board, they need to come in good faith, and I have my doubts as to whether that would happen would this nominee,” Mayor Sam Henderson said. “Signs might have been the target, but the issue was not about signs.”
Mayor Henderson allowed Mr. Burke to speak.
“Knowing Ken [Reichart, Gabber owner and publisher] at the Gabber for many many years, I had a personal contact with him for many years. I had already seen what Cathy [Salustri] was writing about. At that time when I talked to Ken, I said, Ken for any misunderstanding, I apologize.” Mr. Burke said that publisher Ken Reichart did print his apology but omitted his offer to give the property owner a complete set of drawings ready for construction he had drawn up for that property by way of apology.
“I apologize again,” he said.
Members of the public spoke of Mr. Burke’s character, including Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Newcomb, who spoke of Mr. Burke’s character.
“I wonder if all of you are getting back at him because he was on the other side of the campaign,” Beverly Newcomb said.
Others who spoke of Mr. Burke’s character included Mr. Newcomb’s wife, Bev Newcomb, Nancy Kelly and her partner Ann Marie. Of those in attendance, only one – Stan Kreuter – spoke in favor of the vice mayor’s line concerns. Several speakers suggested the March 5 article contained hearsay and questioned whether council should make a decision based on hearsay.
“I did not get everything based simply on an article in the newspaper. I had my own discussions,” Mayor Henderson said, adding that he dealt the subject mattered because the planning and zoning board appointment dealt with city-wide decisions relating to the allegations.
When the audience started to comment, calling the discussion “ridiculous,” Mayor Henderson gaveled the hecklers and said they were out of order.
Ward Four Councilman Michael Fridovich suggested tabling Mr. Burke’s appointment until the council could discuss it in a workshop. Council voted 4-1 to do that with Councilmember Salmon casting the dissenting vote. With that vote, Jeri Reed and Rudy Leopold, nominated by Councilman Michael Fridovich and Mayor Henderson, respectively, joined the planning and zoning committee without question.
Council will discuss this nomination at the May 9 workshop.
Editor’s Note: Before printing the March 5 article referenced above, Gabber reporter Cathy Salustri read back the direct quotes to all parties quoted. Each individual affirmed that they had been quoted accurately.