Safety Harbor's City Commission, April 20, 2020.
Safety Harbor's City Commission, April 20, 2020. (Screenshot/Walt Belcher)

Amid COVID-19 Concerns The First Virtual City Commission Meeting

in city hall/news

The first virtual meeting of the Safety Harbor City Commission Monday night used modern technology, but with no video it came off more like a radio broadcast. 

Unable to meet at City Hall because of the restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Commissioners stayed home and met for an hour and eight minutes via the Internet using the Zoom application. 

Citizens who signed in to watch it on phones, tablets or computer laptops first saw a group photo of the four Commission members and Mayor Joe Ayoub. There also were various power point slides shown during the meeting. 

City Manager Matt Spoor said the reason there was no video was because there was no TV station to broadcast the Zoom meeting.

Without video, listeners had to identify speakers by their voices. And the Commissioners and Mayor could not see each other. But they managed to successfully conduct the meeting. 

Routine city business like approving a contract for $68,890 for curb and sidewalk repairs in Lincoln Heights or amending the city’s contract with the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office by $4,776 to add a 14th school crossing guard (to work the intersection of Marshall Street and 1st Ave N) were over-shadowed by concerns about the impact the virus is having on the city. 

Mayor Joe Ayoub said he wanted to thank the people of Safety Harbor for “doing such a good job in following the guidelines for safety handed down by the state and county.” 

“I see that a lot of people are taking this seriously and are wearing masks and being responsible” he said. In these difficult times, he said he is getting e-mails and messages from people saying that the city needs to have tougher regulations and e-mails saying just the opposite. “I can assure everybody that we are working to find the right balance to protect everybody’s health and well-being,” he said. 

He urged the public to “please, please, please help local businesses that are still open. A lot of them are struggling.”  

Commissioner Andy Zudrow also said he wanted to “reach out the public and just make sure that everybody remains safe and healthy during this pandemic that we’re dealing with. We’re all in this together.”  

Commissioner Nancy Besore gave a shout out salute to the city’s firefighters and chief Josh Stefancic for organizing a recent event at the Mease Hospital where, while standing six feet apart, they applauded health workers during a shift change at the hospital. “Just to see the appreciation in the eyes of the health workers over their masks was incredible,” she said. 

“Everybody is really sacrificing right now to try and stop this terrible virus so we can move ahead with our lives,” said Commissioner Carlos Diaz. He said he wanted to help Safety Harbor businesses that are struggling and asked City Manager Matt Spoor and fellow Commissioners to explore ways to help them financially.  

Commissioner Cliff Merz added that going through this difficult time “with an unchartered and uncertain future, it’s hard going downtown and through our beautiful city and finding not much happening. How we can help each other is important now.” 

At the outset of the meeting, Ayoub was sworn in from home for a new term, having won re-election in March. Also sworn-in from his home was Commissioner Carlos Diaz.  Commissioner Cliff Merz was appointed vice mayor for another term. 

Although the city had opened numerous ways for public comments, such as by e-mail, phone, or the “hand” raising function on Zoom, there were no public statements. 

City Manager Matt Spoor said there were a total of 70 people participating including the Commissioners and staff.  The next meeting is set for May 4. 

Walt spent 35 years as a reporter, feature writer. TV critic and columnist for The Tampa Tribune. Prior to that he worked in the public relations office at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and as a reporter for The Greenville (SC) News. He and his wife, Debbie, have lived in Safety Harbor for 10 years. He also taught media writing courses at the University of Tampa. Since moving here, he has been active with the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, hosting a monthly storytelling night.