Gary Katica

Gary Katica

BELLEAIR — The Town Commission will reluctantly replace longtime Mayor Gary Katica in January.

The move comes after it was learned that Katica, who announced in 2019 that he had Parkinson’s disease, was in the hospital. Town officials are attempting to reach out to family members to obtain a letter of resignation from the well-respected Katica, something no one was happy about, Town Attorney David Ottinger told Tampa Bay Newspapers.

“He is declining but hanging in there; it’s a tough situation,” Ottinger said. “While exploring what the commission needs to do, I checked with each of them individually. They didn’t want to think of the possibility of having to remove him.”

Nevertheless, in January, the commission must choose between building a $14 million reverse-osmosis plant for the city’s water system or connecting to the Pinellas County water supply. If it chooses the latter, the commission would have to disband the Belleair Water Department, which the city charter says requires a supermajority of a five-member commission. The commission has had only four voting members in Katica’s absence.

At their Dec. 15 regular meeting, commissioners named three possible replacements: former Belleair Mayor and Infrastructure Board member George Mariani; Infrastructure Board Chairman Gary Pace; and town Finance Board member Kevin Piccareto. The finance and infrastructure boards are driving the planning, engineering, and funding aspects of the town’s future water supply.

“We all love Gary, but we need a full board,” Deputy Mayor Karla Rettstatt said at the meeting. She fondly remembered Katica urging her to be on the commission. “He encouraged me to get involved, I can still hear him say, ‘Hey kid! Get involved, kid!’”

Katica, 87, also served as a commissioner for three years. That means the younger residents of Belleair have known no one except Katica as their mayor. Commissioner Tom Shelly said Katica has been dedicated to the people of Belleair during his 14 years as mayor.

“Gary is a nice guy who everybody likes,” Shelly said. “His first concern is, what is best for the town of Belleair. Gary has always been very decisive; he listens to everybody. One unique thing he did — he had time set aside every Thursday afternoon to meet with residents.”

He was a constant presence at community events, greeting people at holiday events, movie nights, and sporting events in the recreation center, Shelly said.

The next mayor of Belleair — entirely separate of Katica’s resignation or replacement — will be Commissioner Michael Wilkinson, who is running unopposed in the town’s March 9 elections. He also credits Katica for mentoring him.

Because Rettstatt’s term also ends in March and she is not running again, that will leave two commission seats up for grabs. The top two vote-getters in the Belleair election — the same day other Pinellas County municipalities vote — win the seats.