BELLEAIR BEACH – A new council member was chosen to fill a critical vacancy at the Oct. 1 meeting.

He is Michael “Todd” Harper, a graduate of Seminole High School, who said he has a longtime familiarity with the community. He has lived in Belleair Beach for almost three years, has worked in system design and as a business development manager.

Nicolas Pavouris

Nicolas Pavouris, a leader of a group of council members elected in March on a platform of change and “reshaping of city government,” has resigned.

The council member selection was needed to replace Nicholas Pavouris, who resigned in August, giving no reason for his leaving.

His replacement was a crucial choice for the council’s future direction. Pavouris had been part of a group of four council members elected in March on a promise to bring new leadership and change to council. Three of the four were from the Bellevue Estates Island neighborhood, where residents have long pushed for the undergrounding of utilities. The four had made it a priority to get the wires put underground, and that project is now moving forward.

In the election, they defeated incumbent council members, and have often been at odds on a number of issues with the mayor and two other existing council members. Pavouris had been considered a leader of that group.

So, the vote for Pavouris’ replacement would likely provide the narrow margin of victory for either side in the closely divided council.

The field of candidates was large. There were seven applicants for the council seat, though one dropped out before the selection vote. Only one, Stanley “Stan” Sofer, a former council member, was a recognizable name from Belleair Beach politics.

Reaching a decision proved difficult. Paper ballots were used, and the votes were initially widespread among the candidates. Four ballots were needed to make a choice.

Harper served on the Code Review Advisory Committee, which recently completed a detailed analysis of the city’s codes and recommended changes to be made.

Before the vote, Harper told council members he wants to “bring fresh ideas to council, and think out of the box.”

If chosen for council, Harper said his focus would be on “issues that are important to the community and ensuring that the community is properly represented.”

“It’s all about the community and representing the community, and doing what’s right for the community,” Harper said.

Getting grants and code enforcement are important issues for the city, Harper said.

On the first ballot, Harper had the support of council members Glenn Gunn and John Pietrowski. On the fourth and final ballot, he gained the votes of council members Jody Shirley and Marvin Behm to win.

Harper will serve on council until the next municipal election, which is in March. At that time, the mayor and three council member seats will be up for election.

Gunn picked as vice mayor

The next item on the agenda after the appointment of the new council member was the selection of a vice mayor, to replace Pavouris who had held the position. The selection was between council members Gunn and Wanda Schwerer.

In a 4-3 vote, Gunn defeated Schwerer to become vice mayor. Voting followed the same pattern that has prevailed over recent months. The newer council members supported Gunn and the others were for Schwerer. Harper provided the crucial fourth vote that was the margin of victory for Gunn.

Council meeting time changed

Council voted to move the council meeting start time from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Council members have said before that a later meeting time would allow more working residents to attend. But Council Member John Pietrowski said council used to meet later “and nobody came.” Recent council meetings have been well attended.

Moving the meeting time to 6 p.m. passed in a 4-2 vote. Mayor Leslie Notaro and Pietrowski were opposed to the change. Another reading of the ordinance will be required before the change can take effect.

City projects update

City Manager Lynn Rives gave updates on current city improvement projects.

The city picked Utility Consultants of Florida over Deuel and Associates to manage the Bellevue Estates Island undergrounding project. Though Deuel has had a relationship with the city on previous engineering jobs, Rives said they had no experience with utility undergrounding projects. He said Utility Consultants of Florida has worked on undergrounding utilities on Longboat Key and Bradenton Beach. Rives is negotiating the contract and will bring it before council for final approval.

Rives said assessment money from residents to pay for the neighborhood undergrounding project is “rolling in.” With the funding in place, the work can begin once the contract for the engineering consultant is finalized.

The stormwater control project at First Street and Harbor Drive will start the week of Oct. 22. The area will be closed to outside traffic starting the week of Oct. 15.

Repairs and reconstruction of the seawall on Belle Isle Avenue will begin in late November to early December, Rives said.

Council also authorized the city manager to enter into an agreement with Duke Energy for undergrounding of the utility cross wires along Gulf Boulevard from Causeway Boulevard to Harrison Avenue. This project is being funded through county beautification funds.