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(Photo/Cassidy Fitzpatrick)

Through Pandemic, Janet Hooper is Determined to Help

in news/town square

Janet Hooper, executive director of the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center, is used to times of crisis. Normally, they arrive one family at a time through job losses, food insecurities and electric bill shut offs. Now, Hooper and her team of employees and volunteers are handling a new urgency, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center assists residents in 34695, 34677, 33759, and 33761 zip codes. Safety Harbor’s population includes all income levels, from the affluent to the jobless, but for those who manage one paycheck at a time, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus adds an unforeseen level of stress for many families.

“We’re ready,” Hooper said. “We are closed to the public but if anyone is in need of food or hygiene products, we can direct them to get help.”

The food pantry is still open on Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. and they have a select group that comes in the afternoon due to work schedules. “That is all done outside. They come up, put their name on the list and we have volunteers who’ve prepackaged everything. They get milk or eggs, meat and vegetables.”

Hooper explained that with the shelter in place order, food pantries will stay open. “I’ve committed this week and the next two weeks but I won’t know what it looks like later,” she said. “It is just as hard for us but we still need to provide services.”

So far, she and her staff are taking it one step at a time. “I need to make sure everybody’s safe.  We don’t want to put people at risk, but we want to serve. I’ve agonized over how many weeks we can go.,” Hooper said. “I don’t sleep at night.”

Last week the center had fewer people show up for food than Hooper and her team are used to. “We have several seniors who we feed. They didn’t show up so we will contact them to see if they’re in need. If people need to sign up for food stamps our family support person will work with them to help them sign up.”

photo/ Cassidy Fitzpatrick

For safety concerns, Hooper is asking the community not to bring donations of clothing or food at this time. “If people want to help with the food pantry, the best way would be through a financial contribution,” she said. “We only get three boxes of meat so we have to go out and buy more. It makes it more difficult. “

Hooper still manages to keep her chin up even through the worry. “We had a conference call with the Juvenile Welfare Board and they’re working with partners across the County to feed kids,” she said. “The school system is feeding kids and our school is Eisenhower Elementary. They are working on a new program where the [Mattie Williams] center will be able to provide a drive-through breakfast and lunch program. It will start within two weeks.”

It may be difficult to comprehend how many food-challenged neighbors we have in Safety Harbor. The Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center serves 90 families, which translates to about 250 individuals. Hooper believes the demand will only increase and she isn’t sure how she’ll make up for the fundraisers that have been canceled due to the coronavirus.

“Bands on The Bay got canceled . . . all that money would have gone to the food pantry. We lost that revenue. The community Easter service usually raises $1200. We have lost a lot. Unfortunately, with all the people being laid off, it is going to get worse before it gets better.”.

Note: to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center, visit Mwnfc.org and click the Ways to Help button.

A notice on Bar Fly's door regarding the mandate for restaurants to move to takeout only. (Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

Update from City Manager Matt Spoor

Safety Harbor Sun reached out to Matt Spoor, Safety Harbor’s City Manager, for an update on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the city. Spoor responded, “As of today [March 24, 2020] the city has gone to essential emergency staff and services only.” Spoor also responded to follow-up questions:

Who, aside from yourself, is considered essential at this time? [We’re] assuming no reduction of fire department staff or reduction in scheduling…

Fire Department, Sanitation. Skeleton crews working as needed in Public Works and Parks/Building Maintenance as well as Finance, HR, Building.

Is Public Works maintaining their staffing levels?

No. 

If the Governor orders ‘sheltering-in’ will there be a cutback or change in scheduling for garbage and recycling pick-up?

No, our plan is to continue the current sanitation operation.  The Waste Management Recycling Plant is down again which means currently our recycling material is going to the County Waste to Energy Facility.

Have any staff been permitted to work from home?

No, telecommuting is a great buzz word, but the reality is that less than 25% of the worlds workforce can telecommute and even less in the public service industry.  This really isn’t an option outside of the management team who currently and always has had the capability to work from anywhere.

Will staff who are no longer working receive pay? 

Yes.

As orders come from the state (restaurants to take-out only, potential sheltering in) what authority (if any) does the city have to enforce these orders?

Depends on the order, right now the state is in charge and they work with the PCSO for any needed assistance on enforcement.

What is the city doing to communicate changes to residents and to educate residents as to the necessity of these changes? 

Our social media accounts and website.  People should follow our social media pages for the most accurate changes to city operations.

Will upcoming Commission meetings, if not cancelled, be live-streamed for residents?

Yes, the April 6th meeting has been canceled.

Will the hold on utility cutoffs be extended past March?

Every change we make on a daily and sometimes hourly basis is “until further notice”.

Is the city coordinating with local non-profits to provide support for residents who are particularly vulnerable at this time, either for health or financial reasons?

Nothing to report at this time.


photo/Cyndy Peer

Keeping Safety Harbor Strong

in news/town square

On Monday, Scott Long started getting random messages from friends. They were writing to check on him, to ask questions, and like most of us in Safety Harbor, they were concerned about life with new rules due to coronavirus.

Then he was added to a Facebook group for bar and restaurant owners.

“I realized there had to be a better way,” he said during a phone interview.

So, he used the social media platform to create a group—one that could connect the Harbor, share information, and ask for help when needed. He named the group Safety Harbor Strong. Hours later, he had 500 members. Now, just days later, the group has over 1,000.

“It really took on a life of its own very quickly. It’s beyond what I thought would happen,” Long said. “Obviously, we all have our own needs and concerns. There are folks on there that I don’t know but they jumped on, posting what they need and what they can offer. There are a lot of teachers offering online lesson plans. Businesses offering pickup and delivery. There was someone whose dog needed help for a wound. People offered help.”

Megan Willoughby shared a post about BayCare offering drive up coronavirus testing.  Library Director Lisa Kothe shared that due to the library’s closure, the number of Hoopla check-outs has been increased to six per month through April 30. Harbor Dish founder Chris Sauger shared information on local food pantries, there is a post on free lunch locations for students and there have even been a few locals offering to help deliver meals.

The Sun contacted City Manager Matt Spoor to ask about City employees and how services have changed.  

“We are following all CDC guidelines for staff, cleaning, safe distance etc,” Spoor answered. “All employees will continue to work either from their work site, home, or take accrued leave. There is no one right answer, we have 200 employees across the City.”

There has never been anything to compare what we are experiencing to anything we have lived through, so of course, residents and City leaders alike are doing what they can to make life feel as normal, and be as conscientious, as possible.

Long is known for his public service. He is a former City Commissioner and currently serves on the Library Foundation Board. He started and continues to facilitate Melons for Moolah, an annual fundraiser benefiting local non-profits.

“Two big library fundraisers have been canceled,” he explained. “Drag Queen Bingo and Casino Night. A lot of events will not happen this year. ChalkFest was canceled and in the meantime, I am trying to prepare for June and Watermelon Week for Melons for Moolah.”

Like many in Safety Harbor and even worldwide, Long has taken a financial hit. “My business is being decimated by this. At the same time there is not a lot of work right now. I can sit and watch Netflix or I can do something for my community. “

Some of our local bars and restaurants are changing how they operate, some offering take-out, while others have moved tables to accommodate recommended social distancing. “II think what is going to help our small businesses in town is sharing the pain we are all going through. The challenges are the same. How do you keep employees and do right by your clients?”

We may have to stand six feet away from each other until the virus is no longer a threat, but at least we can still communicate online and through calls and texts to help each other, especially those who can’t—or shouldn’t—leave their homes. Long says he is just trying to fill his life with as much positivity as possible through the social media group.  “If we can get more people involved and sharing it, the more we can stay in touch and get involved.”

city seal
(Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

Safety Harbor Candidates’ Q&A

in city hall/news

Election Day is next Tuesday, March 17. The last day for posting of mail-in ballots was Tuesday, March 10th. Early voting started March 7 and goes through March 15. There are five precincts in Safety Harbor. In addition to the national primaries, several Pinellas county municipal elections are also on the ballot. Safety Harbor has two open seats; mayor and commission seat four. Two candidates are running for mayor: incumbent Joe Ayoub and Tanja Vidovic. Three are vying for the Commission seat: incumbent Carlos Diaz, John Estok, and David Roth.

All are three-year terms with no term limits. The new officials will be involved in directing a few critical issues, primarily growth management and the Ready for 100 initiative.

League of Women Voters Candidates Forum

On January 30, the League of Women Voters hosted a Candidates Forum at the Safety Harbor Spa. The League followed up with publication of Election Guides for both the Mayoral and Commission Seat #4 contests.

Ten (more) questions from the Safety Harbor Sun

In an effort to gain a deeper understanding of candidates’ unique or specific ideas for addressing residents’ concerns, the Safety Harbor Sun met with each candidate and asked a series of ten questions. Although the mayoral race has received some additional press coverage since the Forum, the Safety Harbor Sun‘s focus is on the issues of concern to residents and both of the contests. Responses are lightly edited or condensed for brevity.

The Master Plan has a statement to encourage expansion of public transit linkages. Do you believe that car-free transit options should be a component of future downtown planning and do you have any thoughts on bus service expansion or other alternatives?

Estok: I don’t believe there will be justification for additional routes within Safety Harbor unless density increases. Regional bus routes for Northern Pinellas County would be more effective … Property owners in Safety Harbor contribute almost one million dollars annually to PSTA [Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority] (via a 0.75 property tax) but we don’t reap anywhere near that in service … Regarding trains, I’m skeptical of CSX connections; Sun Rail in Orlando has been a flop. For car-free options, we can add bike lanes; the city could take over Philippe Parkway, Enterprise Road, and the west end of Main Street.

Diaz: Car-free options should definitely be a component of future development. I believe we’re in the middle of this issue of congestion. Cars have been an incredible invention and have pushed society forward, but that’s been at a cost; they’re invasive and take up valuable resources. Price, insurance, road maintenance, and liabilities are concerns for many communities. Where will technology take us next?

Bus expansion or other options; I’d be for it, but that’s up to the county. I would advocate for Safety Harbor residents if they want it. The [Jolley] Trolley that was here didn’t have enough use. The mass transit challenge is the last mile; that’s where technology would come in.

Roth: Yes, absolutely we should coordinate with the county. We say we want a walkable downtown but how do people get there? I have no ideas on bus service, because I don’t know much about it, but I think working on the issue county-wide is important.

Vidovic: Absolutely, the city should advocate for this. There are members of the community who don’t use cars for various reasons and we should try to connect them to existing routes. PSTA advocacy to get people to Tampa, Clearwater, etc. Let residents know what is currently available to increase ridership. Other options are limited due to infrastructure, so helping with walkability and bike routes would help.

Ayoub: Yes, alternative options are good; bus options are up to county. PSTA has cut back on busing due to budget constraints. Advocating is important and  having relationships is good. I have served on that board in the past. On the possibility of additional routes-yes, I’d be for that.

Parking downtown has been raised as a concern for some residents, particularly during events & festivals, but increasingly on non-event days. Do you have any specific ideas to address this concern regarding improving parking spaces on a daily basis and during events?

Estok: Follow the code; don’t waive the code where parking is required.  When exceptions are given, it creates problems. I will not vote for code waivers … A parking garage could be built on city lots on Eighth Avenue, but I don’t want to do that.

For event parking; buses should be used to shuttle people from subdivision — like a Park-and-Ride. 

From here on, limit development density and adhere to parking requirements for new buildings.

Library second story: This is really for meeting rooms. Is this necessary?  The City Commission chambers frequently sit empty. Using this is cheaper than a $2.5 million addition. Part of the cost will have to include parking.  No other specific ideas on parking spaces. I won’t support meters. It’s not a priority with the current commission. The city hasn’t commissioned a parking study, but had discussed parklets which would take up parking spots and be (used) for leisure use.

Diaz: Yes, it’s becoming a problem. The city needs better messaging about where parking is available, including in surrounding neighborhoods. Better organization; on Thursday through Saturday nights the city could offer valet parking  in coordination with community churches or other businesses. If we get the local businesses involved to help pay for this it would benefit all businesses. Re[garding] increasing spaces; I don’t want to sacrifice our ambience for extra parking. I’m skeptical about whether we can find space on the streets. There’s been no discussion about a parking garage.

For events; we could use shuttle services for remote parking. For private events, the vendors must submit a parking plan.

Roth: I don’t have any specific solutions, but I have an issues survey on my website and parking is the number one issue that comes up. But when you suggest parking options, no one wants it “there.” There’s a strong NIMBY factor in Safety Harbor on this and other concerns that come up. It’s something that needs to be discussed and options floated. Some local churches have started to offer park and ride options. At some point the city has to come up with solutions. A democracy doesn’t always appease everyone but hopefully will be in the best long-term interest of the city. For events; partner with churches to provide shuttles.

Vidovic: Yes, that is a big concern. The new building was supposed to include 87 parking spots and they only added 31. On a daily basis, increased density created this problem downtown. It’s hard to fix. We should ask employees to park further away. It will get worse if we don’t address density. Potentially more bus pickup; encourage biking and walking more.  Safety Harbor is 95% developed; no one wants a five-story parking garage.

For events, vendors and their trucks should park remotely at Folly Farms or one of the schools — and Leisure Services should be shuttling them downtown. The city already has busses and staff are often working at events.

Ayoub: I’m always looking to acquire property for parking; we’re mostly built out, but I keep in touch with property owners. Events are the biggest problem, last year the city started requiring organizers to provide parking options for their events. They must have a plan to handle parking, such as using shuttle buses and they’re required to find locations for parking. 

Would you advocate for drawing a grocery store to downtown Safety Harbor? If yes, how should the city proceed?

Estok: Probably not feasible since there’s not enough people downtown to support this.

Diaz: Yes, that would be awesome; something small like a Sprouts. That type of sophisticated business is not going to come without a proper infrastructure in place; that is, a building that meets their requirements.  The city could talk to property owners on Main Street about developing their property for that outcome.

Roth: I haven’t heard this from anyone. No big chain, but a small organic grocer would be nice. I have no preconceived notions on it. That is rolled into the parking issue. I’m not afraid to discuss it.

Vidovic: It would have to be the right store; a small local store would be great. Off of Ninth Street could accommodate a larger store with parking. A small store would be well-supported. It’s one of the things downtown is missing.

City role: [The] business development liaison could reach out and put the word out that the city is interested.

Ayoub: Yes, I have been advocating for this. I asked the the economic development liaison to look for a green grocer to locate to Main Street. The ideal location would be the old post office; we had several people look at it, but no deal has been made. That contributes to a more walkable downtown. One of goals of the Master Plan was to do this, so I’m trying to keep it on commissioners’ minds.

Firefighter staffing was discussed at the Candidate Forum. What is the issue here and do you think it’s a problem?

Estok: It’s not discussed at the meetings hardly. What I hear and feel is that the rank-and-file firefighters think that the chief is just doing what the city manager wants and that their needs are irrelevant. There’s also the feeling that city positions are being filled by Largo associates who will do what the city manager wants.

Diaz: It’s being overplayed a bit. The Fire Chief works with the police, other fire departments, ambulances and 911. The Largo Central Command has a sophisticated system to route 911 calls. There are a lot of analytics involved; resources have to be deployed carefully. The county coordinates all of the different pieces. It’s better to be part of the larger county system with more resources than being a stand-alone system.

Roth: I’ve looked at the plan with the county and I don’t have a problem with it. The concerns are based on a misunderstanding of how things are done here versus other areas of Tampa Bay. I don’t have a problem with the staffing; I’ve done a lot of research on this, but not every issue has a definitive answer.

Vidovic: The issue is NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] & AHA [American Heart Association] make the recommendation for a minimum staffing of four, preferably five, based on how many people it takes to effectively put out fires. Our staffing is three; twice last month the staffing was two and one truck was out of service for a shift due to lack of staff.  There are ways to cut funding; public safety shouldn’t be one of them. A recently-retired fire fighter brought up safety concerns to the commission and the city manager and he was written up for it and given a suspension. Our staff should be listened to, not reprimanded for speaking out.

NFPA makes recommendations based on studies and fires. Often calls are downgraded and the BLS [Basic Life Support] calls can’t get there in time if the situation turns into a heart problem.

Ayoub: It’s not an issue or a problem. Response time, efficiency, and level of service are getting better. We have saved money, but the level of service has improved. We’re staffed appropriately. Eighty to ninety percent of the time we’re above the county minimum. One hundred percent of the time we meet the minimum. Changes were made to priority dispatch. We’re keeping our resources available for life-threatening issues.

Ready for 100: Are you familiar with it? Do you think it’s feasible to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050? Will you establish a committee that includes residents to formulate a plan to implement changes?

Estok: Now comes the hard part: Who will bear the cost of implementation? We don’t need a Sustainability Coordinator now because there’s no plan to coordinate. Policy should come from citizens and the commission and then decide if we need a coordinator. We shouldn’t be dictated to. This is a budgeting issue. Where is pollution coming from? Where are we now and where are we going? We’re going to have to rely on consultants to give us advice on this.

Grants are a better incentive than tax cuts for this. I’m not in favor of cluttering up the tax code with preferences for specific uses. It is feasible for the city to pursue going solar. The city wants to build a new city hall; I’m in favor of charter amendments for this type of enormous expense. The community should be involved.

Diaz: 100% yes. A lot of it is technology-based. The community should be involved. It’s a pretty big plan. Once we see what the city manager comes up with regarding objectives over the next three years and how to implement it, it’s a big plan and the city may need some help.   

Where we can go solar in the city, we should. Right now, the current City Hall can’t go solar because we’d have to cut down trees, but in some locations we should.

Roth: Yes. Cities have already done it. Pick small things and do them; then the process accelerates. Yes, include residents. First, get a Sustainability Coordinator who will act as liaison to the community. Multiple municipalities are doing this, so we leverage that and pool resources and information, including the free information available. Sierra Club is targeting Pinellas County, so possibly eighty percent of the county will be involved. They’re interested in economic justice. Anything that reduces costs should benefit residents due to lower costs. Use the offset money to spend on other projects. We’ll educate citizens about installing solar, as Dunedin is doing, as well as offer grants. That includes pushing back against the energy companies who have convinced the state to stop offering subsidies.

Vidovic: Yes, I stand with the Sierra Club and it’s possible to do this way before 2050. First steps now should be simple things to reduce consumption, like switching to LED bulbs and installing solar wherever we can. What we can’t make on our own, we can buy blocks from Duke. 

Provide grants for homeowners to install solar. Mayor stated that he wouldn’t sign the initiative unless the city took out environmental justice language to include all members of the community. We need a Sustainability Board and administrator. Reach out to all neighborhoods quarterly to let them know what’s available and hear what they need. Form alliances to buy solar in bulk.

Ayoub: Absolutely. The goal is 2035 for city operations and city-wide by 2050. We’re looking at hiring a Sustainability Coordinator and we need to work with other local governments on knowledge and resource sharing.  Working on a plan to move forward; that may or may not include a committee. We’re not at the stage yet to involve residents, but people are very engaged in this issue. The meetings on Ready for 100 were packed; everyone was engaged and emotional; there is already a high level of interest. Tampa Bay magazine did a profile on community leaders in the area … and I would guess 70% of the leaders were talking about sustainability and climate change. There’s a lot of awareness.

Development variances are a hot button issue for some Safety Harbor residents, particularly regarding home height & setbacks. Is this actually a problem — or an issue of perception? What about with commercial housing or business development variances or waivers?

Diaz: Home variances — very few variances are given. Most things are done according to code. If we do give a variance, there’s usually a give-and-take. It’s hard to have a code that addresses all types of variables.

Commercial housing and business development: Second and Main is the first building in years; concessions were made on each side. [The} developer installed tree culverts and they built a 42-foot building when 45-foot was allowed at the time. He was willing to forgo funds and save money in the long run. The city worked with him.

Roth: Over the last few years I’ve seen too many votes that favor exceptions and not enough push back. However, some people have totally the wrong perception of what’s going on. When I show people the downtown development map, people are appalled to see eight blocks of Main Street and two blocks on either side are zoned to have 35-foot high buildings on both sides. The zoning is in place and we need to review it. I would like to see that changed to read two-story buildings.

Commercial variances should not be any different than residential; it should all be two-story zoning. We need to poll residents on various issues.

Vidovic: It is a huge issue; our infrastructure cannot support more density.  Pinellas County is 95% built out. Building up increases traffic, flooding; there’s less parking, the storm system can’t handle more water. The fact that we are still building in flood zones is crazy. Tree canopy reduction increases heat index. When we reduce setbacks and cut down trees there’s less permeable land. A twenty-five percent tree canopy lowers temperatures ten degrees in cities. Infrastructure can’t be replaced without raising taxes. I don’t think the community wants more density.

Commercial: A variance should be a rare thing. Everyone should follow existing codes; if rules need changing, let’s change it. 

Ayoub: I think it’s both; [a] perception and a real issue. We’ve made dozens of changes to the code over the last few years. One issue is that we need homes that are compatible with existing homes; smaller footprints. We may give a residential height variance in exchange for a smaller footprint. It’s a give and take. Iron Age Street did not get a variance.

Commercial: I don’t recall issuing variances for a bigger footprint. You’ve got to look at the full picture from the first proposal to the second proposal.  There’s only been one building in the last fifteen years and this one was built so it’s smaller, less tall and more compatible with the existing neighborhoods.

Do you think the city’s communication methods regarding events and around future planning need improving? If yes, how can this be done with current staffing models?

Diaz: Lack of transparency was brought up in the Forum. Everything is public record and there are at least two meetings for every project. I don’t know how we can get more information out there. Perhaps we should use social media more and perhaps we should reorganize the website.

We could do a citizen poll or work with committees about how to get their message out.

Roth: Yes, there should be more cohesion and communication is too fragmented. The website and social media communication needs changing. For staffing, I don’t know how the staffing works. The website is outsourced.

It’s not acceptable to have to go to multiple places for information. Interesting that meetings are cancelled but the website is not updated, or it’s at the bottom of the page. You shouldn’t have to hunt for updates.

Vidovic: Absolutely we need to have a better transparent government … we need to do a better job letting people know about planning … People often don’t know about buildings until they’re underway. There are forgotten neighborhoods that don’t know what grants are available to them.

Ayoub: There’s room for improvement, but in general I think we do a good job with communication. I was out knocking on doors during The Best Damn Race and people were appreciative of the notifications. We don’t need additional staffing; it’s just looking for better ways to communicate.

Our walkable downtown is a desirable bonus, but affordable housing is limited in Safety Harbor. How can the city government ensure that affordability is preserved and encouraged?

Diaz: We are limited in what the municipality can do. A few years ago we were going to donate some land to a developer for affordable housing. The cost they came back with was about $230,000, which is too high. I was expecting it to be about $150,000. Additionally the residents were not happy about it. There may be a perception problem with the term affordable housing. Also, where would we put it? On Cedar Street I want to remind people that apartments were prop0sed and everyone was against it.

Roth: It’s sad when employees can’t afford to live in the city where they work.

People agree it’s a problem but no real steps have been made to make that happen.

Vidovic: That is hard to do. The original agreement for the apartments (on Second Avenue) were supposed to be affordable but are $2300-a-month for a small two-bedroom. Everyone wants their house value to be high, but that increases the taxes.

The city needs to look at other small towns to see who is doing it right and follow their model. Do some research and see what works.

Ayoub: It’s tough; we’ve looked at a lot the city owns on Elm Street. The city can offer incentives … for very nice housing, but the perception of the neighbors was that they hated the idea. At the meetings with the surrounding neighborhoods, we gave a really good presentation, but they weren’t really listening .… everyone just kept talking about Section Eight housing. Everyone’s high-level in-theory in favor of it, but if it’s going to be near them, they don’t want it.

The city dropped the idea of that location, but it’s still in our vision to pursue affordable housing.

Regarding general budget allocations, do you have any final thoughts on how the city budget is currently managed and how decisions are made that impact city residents? 

Diaz: The city is being run very efficiently and we’ve been responsible with the budget.  It’s important to have a balanced budget over the span of several years. Keep millage rate stable. 

Roth: No thoughts on this; I haven’t looked into it. That’s why I’ve been going to committee meetings to learn more about it.

Vidovic: It’s not horrible but there’s always room for improvement. For example in city parks, why are we pulling out established and native plants and putting in annuals and grass turf that requires constant upkeep and water? Why are we buying plastic products and preaching sustainability? 

Salaries; higher ups making big salaries but there are twenty-three positions that make less than $11 per hour. We need to shore up city reserves for projects such as Bishop Creek that will cost the city a lot of money.

Ayoub: I’m a CPA and it’s important to me to keep the budget balanced. We haven’t raised the millage rate in four years. The budget is the biggest policy initiative the commission passes every year. To get people interested in the budget is an enormous challenge.

We’ll have meetings where we were passing the budget and we don’t have anybody in attendance. We encourage people to attend. Maybe they trust us to do the right thing.

Our reserves are very healthy. We have emergency and stabilization funds and additional money on top of it. We’re over where we need to be.

Do you have website and will it or does it include your donors?  

Diaz: Yes and no. The information is on the city website. My donors have been mostly family and friends and now more city residents. I’m very proud that I manage my own campaign. That means the messaging and what people say; I’m accountable to that — if someone misrepresents me they know I will address it.

Roth: I hadn’t thought of it, but it’s on the city website. My campaign is mostly self-funded with some money from friends. It’s a small grassroots campaign and I didn’t seek endorsements as I want to stay unbiased and independent.

Vidovic: Donors are found on city website. I’m not updating my site much; I’m getting out knocking on doors. I’d love for people to look where my money’s coming from. It’s not coming from the real estate agents and developers and city planners … Who is giving me money are local residents … with a lot of small donations. My opponent has received thirty to forty-five percent of his campaign contributions from real estate agents and other commercial developers. 

Ayoub: No, they’re all listed on the city website. It’s public record.

Contributions from the city’s M-2 Treasurer Reports as of publication:

  • Ayoub:  $21,495
  • Diaz:     $8,116
  • Estok:    $772
  • Roth:     $2,707
  • Vidovic:  $10,347

Some candidates offered final thoughts:

Estok: I want to revamp city code re[garding] zoning and get citizen involvement in large budget questions.

Diaz: I’m not interested in the hostility in the city; I don’t need to do that as I’m well-qualified and I have no conflicts of interest. I’ve served for six years and am passionate about Safety Harbor. I want the best for the city and residents; my core value is that the community is the most important thing — keeping people happy and engaged in the city. If the residents want development, great. If they want something else, that’s great also.

Roth: I’m running because I worked with the Sierra Club to get Safety Harbor to agree to the Ready For 100 initiative. In that process I attended a few city council meetings and I observed what I considered dysfunction and a disregard for the viewpoints of residents. After following up on this I found that there’s a large group of people who felt the same way.

There have been a few articles about our local election, some with a focus on the controversies between candidates, in local news media. Here are links to this additional coverage:

Candidate websites often include biographical information and formal policy positions. We’ve included links here for further reference.


Prior to commenting on articles, whether on the Safety Harbor Sun website or associated social media accounts, please review our Engagement Guidelines.

city seal
(Photo/Kathryn Malaxos)

Local elections: Before the campaigns begin

in city hall/news

Campaign season has formally begun in Safety Harbor for the 2020 municipal election. Have you ever considered how the officials in our town get on the ballot?  Most of us are too busy to spend time learning how the process works, so the Safety Harbor Sun is delving into the procedural process to become a candidate in our city. 

Our next municipal elections will be on March 17, 2020, the same day as the national primaries. Safety Harbor typically schedules elections to coincide with presidential primaries and other state and county elections as this offers significant savings on printing and other fees. Safety Harbor will have two open seats; Mayor and Commissioner Seat Four, each of which is a three-year term. All Commissioners and the Mayor are elected in non-partisan, at-large elections. There are no term limits in Safety Harbor.  These are not full-time positions and commissioners typically have continued their careers while serving. Compensation for these positions is:   

  • Mayor:  $9,587.16/annually ($6,000/year + $3,587.16 per diem/year). 
  • Commissioners:  $8,387.16/annually ($4,800/year + $3,587.16 per diem/year

So, how does a resident get on the ballot for the March election?  A potential candidate must be a registered voter and a resident of the city for at least one year. The qualifying period for the upcoming election ran from noon on December 2 to noon on December 9. The qualifying period is when announced candidates have to finalize all the requirements to run for office in Florida. The requirements are mainly dictated by state law and are significant; the handbook runs to hundreds of pages.  

Before December 2, each candidate must purchase the Candidate Handbook for $40, appoint a Campaign Treasurer, designate a depository for a campaign account and submit an official Candidate Statement. This is just the beginning of a list of forms and required fees as mandated by the state of Florida.

Interested candidates meet with City Clerk and Safety Harbor Supervisor of Elections Karen Sammons to review all the requirements and begin the process. Some of the other steps include returning 100 petition cards from registered voters and filing eleven additional forms. There are fees to be paid from the campaign account established for this purpose. They are $160 for Mayor and $123 for Commissioner. Financial statements are required to identify sources of income and disallow someone who may want to profit from their position in government. Campaigns can be financed by the candidate or from declared donations.

Once a person meets all the qualifications for candidacy, they can begin campaigning. Signs may be posted 90 days prior to election (12/18/2019) and must be removed by March 24, 2020. Clearwater and Dunedin have very similar processes for qualification.

There are currently five declared candidates in Safety Harbor. These people have completed the initial steps for candidacy, opened campaign accounts, and submitted the necessary petitions. For Mayor, incumbent Joe Ayoub and Tanja Vidovic are qualified. For Commissioner Seat Four there also three declared candidates; incumbent Carlos Diaz, John Estok, and David Roth.

Residents must be registered by February 18 to vote in the March election.  So far, there are seven voting locations in the city. These election precincts are listed here.

Pinellas County currently has 685,996 Active Registered Voters. Safety Harbor has 13,553, consisting of 4248 Democrats, 5304 Republicans, 3860 with No Party Affiliation and 141 Other.

Statistics courtesy of the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.

CBD products. (Photo/Julie Brannon)

The CBD Conundrum

For a few years now folks have been jumping on the CBD bandwagon faster than fleas can hop on a sleeping hound dog. It’s in high demand as a natural treatment for pain, anxiety, insomnia, GI issues, PTSD, seizure disorders, and other conditions. Many users absolutely swear by it. “It’s helping so many people with so many issues by improving their quality of life,” says Dr. Sangita Patel, PharmD, owner of Sunlife Pharmacy in Palm Harbor. 

Cannabidiol comes from agricultural hemp, not marijuana, and doesn’t get you high. There are literally hundreds of companies producing a dizzying array of CBD products: tinctures, topicals, and gummies, even snack chips, shampoo, and dog food. Geez. This genie isn’t just out of the bottle — it pulled up and moved to Istanbul. But there’s a problem in CBD land. Actually, two BIG problems.

First, CBD is illegal under Federal law. Still, some states — Florida included say it is legal as long as it contains less than .3% THC.  As a natural products retailer this pretty much makes my head spin.  My customers demand it so I supply it, but I’m breaking Federal law in doing so. The odds of the feds coming after me are slim to none, but I’m still taking a risk. I do it for just one reason:  I want to make sure my customers have access to a safe product, manufactured with superior practices, and perhaps most important of all -— with sound, third party scientific testing behind it to ensure quality. Dr. Patel offers a number of CBD products, but she has also carefully vetted the companies that manufacture the products she carries. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for a guy behind the counter at the gas station or some joker selling God-knows-what’s-in-it CBD at the flea market.  With US sales projected to reach 1.8 billion by 2022 you can bet shysters will be cashing in with crappy product as long as they can get away with it, so we shouldn’t underestimate the potential threat to public safety.

And there’s the second problem: CBD products are not currently regulated by the FDA, and as such are not required to be produced under GMP rules (Good Manufacturing Practices) and other regulations established to guarantee safety, purity, and consistent quality.  Personally, I’ll rest easier when the FDA gets off its hands and grants CBD status under the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (yes, supplements are indeed regulated by the FDA) but it’s impossible to say if or when that may happen. Natural products associations have been pressuring the FDA to get moving. [Read letters from representatives of these organizations here and here.] Just last month the New Jersey Senate passed a resolution calling on Congress and the President to help protect consumers by setting safety standards for CBD.  But for now it remains the wild, wild, west when it comes to CBD, and buyers must beware. 

Fortunately there are a few very good companies producing very good CBD products, voluntarily using GMP rules. These are the brands I stick with. Same goes for Dr. Patel.  “Just make sure you are buying from health professionals or those who know CBD and can educate you and help you in getting to the right dose,” she adds. Here are some more tips that may help you navigate the possible pitfalls of CBD use.

The most important first step is to determine if you can even take CBD.  Many can’t. Forget it if you’re pregnant or nursing, and if you take any prescription meds at all you must do your homework or the results could be disastrous. For example, Dr. Patel urges caution when taking anti-coagulant medications. See, the body metabolizes toxic compounds and certain drugs through what’s called the cytochrome P-450 pathway. CBD acts like a roadblock on that pathway, which can cause a dangerous build up of drugs in the body. Grapefruit also blocks cytochrome P-450, so the easy litmus test is this: if you can safely eat grapefruit while taking a certain medication, then CBD is probably safe for you. Still, I highly recommend checking with your doctor or pharmacist before using CBD if you take meds or have a serious health condition.

Stick with major brands from reputable stores. Make sure there’s a QR code or lot number on the box, along with a Supplement Facts box that lists every ingredient and specifies the amount of CBD per serving in terms of milligrams (mg’s). It’s a head scratcher, but some companies label their product with the total mg’s of CBD in the bottle. So look for the mg’s per serving. Dr. Patel advises full spectrum, organic, and American grown, from a company that has all its research and quality controls in place.

Scan the QR code or go to the company’s website and look up the lot number. How is the hemp grown? Is it US Hemp Authority certified? What extraction method was used?  Look for third party test results. These should be on the lab’s letterhead, refer to a specific batch, and include a Certificate of Analysis, a Pesticide Report, a Terpenes Profile, and a Heavy Metals report.  All this information will be easily accessible if the product is worth a darn. If it’s not, then drop it like a hot potato.  Oh, and don’t be fooled by ingredients or potencies listed as “proprietary.” That usually means they don’t want you to know what’s in it.  

As far as dosing, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s a matter of finding the dose that gets the job done for you. Quality products will always have a “suggested dose” on the label, but we all have different absorption rates, body weight, and pain tolerances. Research is sparse, but available studies say CBD is generally well tolerated even at very high doses — which I recommend against.  Dr. Patel suggests starting at 20-25mg per dose. “That’s the average dose of a healthy person. Increase it slowly every 3-5 days to see where you get relief, and it’s best to divide your doses throughout the day. CBD lasts about four to six hours so dividing doses will make the effects last longer.” If CBD doesn’t seem to get the job done in a couple of weeks, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Trust me, there are plenty of other natural options available. 

CBD can be a marvelous therapeutic tool for a number of different conditions as long as it’s produced with high standards, has good science behind it, and is used safely. But we have to be educated consumers, and maybe a bit activist.  A letter to your congressman urging the adoption of federal guidelines and safety standards probably wouldn’t hurt.

This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice, nor is it designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor should it be considered a substitute for the expert care of a qualified health professional.

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