Belleair Shore Mayor John Robertson, who has been at the helm for 16 years, is stepping down.
BELLEAIR SHORE – With one notable exception, tiny Belleair Shore gets little notice from those who pass by on Gulf Boulevard, making their way to destinations such as Indian Rocks Beach and Clearwater Beach.
Pinellas County’s smallest municipality has no entry signs and little visible evidence that it even exists separate from neighboring Belleair Beach. Belleair Shore’s 100 or so residents, who own or rent the stately mansions interspersed with a few more modest dwellings of an earlier era, like the lack of recognition.
The town has had its share of superlatives, though. Among them, the county’s lowest tax rate, highest percentage population growth (2000 to 2010), highest average home value and, some say, the county’s largest unique home.
That would be the palatial dwelling of Philadelphia Phillies MVP first baseman Ryan Howard, now under construction at 1700 Gulf Boulevard. The house, which will contain a Venice-style canal and bowling alley, among other features, has become a traffic-stopper.
Another superlative for the town has been John Robertson, currently the longest serving mayor in Pinellas County. Robertson has been at the helm of Belleair Shore’s affairs for the past 16 years.
Robertson announced recently that he is stepping down. A leg ailment is hampering his mobility and he felt the time had come to call it quits. He formally resigned on March 24 at a special town commission meeting.
Deputy Mayor Robert E. Schmidt Jr. was elected mayor at that meeting. He has served on the commission 19 years. Commissioner Deborah Roseman was named deputy mayor.
The town’s meetings are held at Belleair Bluffs City Hall. The kitchen in Robertson’s somewhat modest (by Belleair Shore standards) old Florida house, has served as town hall and mayor’s office.
During a recent interview at his home, “town hall,” Robertson reflected on his years as Belleair Shore’s mayor, and spoke about the happenings and changes that have occurred.
Robertson said he joined the Town Commission during a turbulent period. The mayor at the time and his “hand selected commission members ran roughshod over everything and everybody” who didn’t agree with him, Robertson said.
“Everyone fought like dogs and cats,” recalled Robertson’s wife and closest adviser, Robin. “Nobody got along,” she said.
The result was turmoil and a rash of lawsuits.
“Everybody was suing everybody else,” Robertson said. The town was facing three lawsuits when Commissioner Schmidt, now the mayor, put together a reform group and decided to mount a challenge.
Robertson agreed to run against the entrenched mayor, and he won. His campaign slogan was “swimsuits, not lawsuits,” Robin Robertson said. A cleanup of town government followed, and a changed outlook that has been the rule in Belleair Shore ever since, Mayor Robertson said.
“We governed on the basis of cooperation, with the residents and among ourselves,” he said. “The rule was ‘everybody works together.’ We are not there to get our way, but to get a resolution.”
The town’s main issues over the years have ranged from dogs on the beach and missing buoys in the water, to weekend “party” renters/noisemakers and unkempt properties. All have been resolved, Robertson said, with the same cooperative spirit and willingness to work together to get a problem solved that has characterized the commission all along.
Cooperative arrangements with other communities have also been beneficial to Belleair Shore. Early on, Robertson said he and the other commissioners realized that Belleair Shore did not have the resources to provide services on its own.
So a relationship with Belleair Beach’s public services department was established where needed services such as maintenance of public areas, beach cleanups, buoy replacement and other jobs are provided for a reasonable fee. The arrangement has benefited both communities, Robertson said.
Bonnie Dhonau, the town clerk until recently, has been a “shared employee” from Indian Shores. The position is part time in Belleair Shore and Dhonau has been “our blessing,” Robertson said.
Robertson said Belleair Shore’s population continues to change, and “over half the town has changed over” since he took office in 1998.
But through the years, Robertson said good people have stepped forward to join the commission when needed. “
We’ve had a good commission, cooperative, intelligent, dedicated people,” he said.
Robertson praised commission members past and present for their years of dedication. Among those he named were former Commissioners Bill Krone and John E. Hayes Jr., along with current Mayor Robert Schmidt and Deputy Mayor Deborah Roseman.
Robertson also mentioned Roseman, who was appointed to the commission last year, as a potential future mayor.
One certain change to result from Robertson’s departure and Schmidt’s appointment as mayor will be the moving of town hall out of Robertson’s kitchen to somewhere in Schmidt’s home.