BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Mayor Chris Arbutine was recognized at the Jan. 11 City Commission meeting for serving 20 years as the city’s chief executive. That is longer than any other mayor in Pinellas County.
Arbutine’s tenure will continue into the future, as he is beginning his 11th term this March, with no opposition for election.
City Administrator Debra Sullivan, who has served alongside Arbutine for 19 of his 20 years as City Clerk and later administrator, presented him with a plaque from the Florida League of Cities and told of the city’s accomplishments with Arbutine as mayor.
Among the achievements were completion of a massive road improvement and drainage control project on the city’s west side, where flooding had been a major problem. Much of the cost of that effort was paid for with grant money. The project has now been extended to roads on the city’s east side.
The new Causeway Bridge, a county project, was also constructed while Arbutine was mayor, and the city played a significant role in the successful outcome of that effort.
The successful transition of the 12-person Belleair Bluffs Fire Department to become part of the larger Largo Fire Rescue with substantially more resources, was followed by the construction of a new state-of-the-art station on city-owned property across from City Hall. That was described by fire department officials as “the perfect location” to better serve area residents, and is an important part of Arbutine’s legacy.
Arbutine also initiated the city’s code enforcement program with the Sheriff’s Office, Sullivan said, “and has also seen us through hurricanes ranging from Frances and Charley up to the detrimental Irma,” with the city’s response drawing praise.
Construction of the City Hall/Community Center in 2001 was the first and likely most challenging effort Arbutine would encounter while in office. The proposal divided the community between those who saw it as a major benefit for the city and others who thought it was too expensive and would take away from park space at the Sunset Boulevard location.
Arbutine was solidly in favor of the City Hall project and was instrumental in making it happen. He secured donations from residents and Penny for Pinellas tax money for funding.
Residents today see the City Hall/Community Center as a vital part of the city, both for official city business and a place for popular community events such as Fourth of July and Christmas Tree Lighting celebrations.
Sullivan said under Arbutine’s leadership, “we have seen a lot of issues, changes and overall progressions, that have put Belleair Bluffs on the map in Florida.”
After Sullivan finished reading her list of the city’s achievements during the Arbutine years, which was three pages long, the mayor responded by saying, “I did not do this alone. I had great support and worked with city staff, our legal team, commissioners, residents and the business community to make these things happen.
“If you make the best decision, a good product comes,” Arbutine said. “We haven’t always made the popular decision, but we made the right decisions together, I feel. And if a good product comes from our actions, people will want more of that.”
Arbutine said the city had been transparent in its actions and worked with other communities.
“I wish I could say I did this all by myself, but I was just here for the ride, along with everyone else,” the mayor concluded, to applause from the commission members, staff and residents in the audience.
Commissioners, all of whom have served with Arbutine for at least 10 years, praised the mayor and told what he had meant to them.
Commissioner Suzy Sofer said, “I will never forget him telling me, ‘The city is not about one person. Every decision we make affects everyone else. So when you make decisions about the future of the city, keep that in mind.’ I live by those words,” Sofer said. “Thank you, mayor, for your guidance.”
Commissioner Taylour Shimkus said Arbutine “has always listened to us and to the residents.”
“You have always steered us in the right way and that takes great leadership,” Shimkus said.
Commissioner Jack Nazario said he has been very impressed with the good image Arbutine has given to the city. He told the mayor, “You have raised our prominence to one of the highest in the state.”
Arbutine was congratulated by Commissioner Joseph Barkley for his years of service as mayor. “It is great statewide recognition for the City of Belleair Bluffs that the Florida League of Cities has honored you in this way,” Barkley said.