MADEIRA BEACH — Three new commission members, who are new to city politics, were installed at a special meeting prior to the March 22 regular commission workshop.

At that session, special recognition was given to Mayor John Hendricks and Commissioner Dave Hutson as they left office. Outgoing Commissioner Doug Andrews was not at the meeting and will be recognized at a later time. 

Taking the oath of office from City Clerk Clara VanBlargan were Mayor Jim Rostek and Commissioners Eddie McGeehen of District 3 and Anne-Marie Brooks from District 4. Rostek defeated Andrews to win the mayor’s seat in the recent municipal election, while McGeehen and Brooks were unopposed for their positions.

City Manager Robin Gomez presented plaques to Hendricks and Hutson honoring their service.

“Thank you very much for your insights, for always being very well prepared,” Gomez said to Hutson, who decided not to run again for his District 4 seat after serving 2 years.

Hutson said he had “learned all sorts of things” that he had never thought about before while serving on the commission, and he thanked city staff for “letting me be a part of the family.”

Gomez, who was hired as city manager in December 2021 with strong support from Hendricks, made note of that fact in his comments to Hendricks.

“Thank you very much for the time that we spent together. Actually, I learned just about everything about the city of Madeira Beach from you, so I definitely appreciate that,” Gomez told Hendricks. With the latest changes in the commission, none of the people remain who hired Gomez just over a year ago.

Fire Chief Clint Belk came forward to add his thanks. “You’ve always been so supportive of us at the fire department, that we just wanted to show our gratitude to you,” he said, as he presented Hendricks with “your very own fire helmet.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Hendricks responded as he admired the helmet. The chief chuckled as he said, “It’s not NFTA standard, so you can’t actually go fight fires with that, but it’ll look nice hanging on the wall.”

Another presentation by Gomez was a painting by a local artist picturing Hendricks at the Madeira Beach 911 Memorial and thanking him for his service to the city.

While Hendricks only served one three-year term as mayor, he had been active in civic affairs for years, serving on city boards and committees and attending most Board of Commissioner meetings. He said when taking office in 2020 that he planned to serve as mayor for only one term.

In his farewell remarks, Hendricks said the city has “a great, great staff — I can’t say enough good things about them,” as he named the managers and officers, and even mentioned “the guys in the trash department — they’re rock stars.”

He ended his remarks by telling the commissioners, “If you have any questions, give me a call.”


Impact of new commissioners

Items on the March 22 workshop agenda were mostly updates by staff members with not a lot of discussion by commission members. Present at the meeting were the new mayor and two new commissioners, along with Commissioner Ray Kerr, who was elected last year. Commissioner David Tagliarini, also with one year tenure, was absent.

It is too soon to tell if this commission will make significant changes. During his campaign for mayor, Rostek ran as an outsider to defeat two-term Commissioner/Vice Mayor Doug Andrews. While proposing some changes, Rostek did say during a mayoral debate that in general the city was well run. 

The main contrast between the mayoral candidates was their differing attitudes about development, with Rostek calling for more citizen input in the development process, while Andrews strongly supported the city’s planning department and their review process.

An upcoming issue that will clarify the direction of the new board is a vote on the Johns Pass Village Activity Center zoning. After several years of preparation and reviews by city staff, with numerous presentations to the commissioners, an ordinance was brought forward for first reading in January. It passed, 3-2, with Hendricks, Andrews and Kerr in favor, and Hutson and Tagliarini opposed.

That vote could flip on second reading of the ordinance with the new commission. Only Kerr and Tagliarini are still on the commission. The second reading was put on hold while the county did their reviews of the complex ordinance, and has been further delayed by a technicality relating to the definition of terms in the Comprehensive Plan. 

It is expected the second reading of the JPV Activity Center zoning ordinance will be scheduled for later this summer.

Charter rejection addressed

The final item on the workshop agenda sparked some controversy. It was a discussion item about a charter issue from the recent election on whether to specifically allow a contractor or firm to serve as the city’s finance director/treasurer. In the past, that role has been filled by a city employee, but recently Andrew Laflin, a contractor, has done so.

The vote on the ballot issue was 537 no to 427 yes. Gomez said that since the issue failed to pass, the commission needs to discuss how to proceed. He said he is very comfortable with the current arrangement, and in fact it is perfectly acceptable to continue with a contractor in that position.

City Attorney Thomas Trask said creating the ballot issue was not really necessary, but it would have given “a stamp of approval to what we’re currently doing.” The charter does not require the finance director to be an employee of the city, Trask said. He pointed out the city attorney position is also one that is filled by a contractor.

Rostek said with the ballot issue being defeated, he interpreted that to mean the voters do not want the finance director to be a contractor.

Rostek also asked what is more cost-effective in filling the finance director position. Gomez responded that there is a savings to the city with the current arrangement. He said there is not enough work to justify a full-time employee, and the salary plus benefits for an employee would be around $160,000 versus the $90,000 being paid to the contractor.

Kerr said, “There’s nothing but positives that I see to having the contract with (the Andrew Laflin) firm.”

The consensus of the commissioners was to just continue with the current arrangement.

Resident Bill Howell disagreed with that approach.

“I can’t believe you would all consider not doing something after the city just voted against this. We don’t want a contractor in that job,” Howell said. “This is just shameful. The citizens aren’t going to put up with this nonsense. That (ballot issue) was turned down by the citizens.”

In response to a question from the Beacon, Trask said, “I was asked the question last fall what would happen if the charter amendment was not approved. My opinion then, and now, is that the charter still doesn’t require the city treasurer to be an employee.”