BELLEAIR BEACH — June VanScoyoc is no longer chairperson of the city’s Park and Recreation Board. She was removed from that position in a 4-3 vote at the July 6 City Council meeting. The meeting will also be remembered for it record seven-hour length, caused by a long agenda and several contentious issues.
Council Member Rita Swope had placed an item on the agenda that called for removing VanScoyoc from the Park Board, where she has served as chairperson for the past year.
In introducing the item, Swope said VanScoyoc had “taken actions that do not represent the city in the manner which is expected of a member of one of our advisory boards or committees.” She mentioned VanScoyoc was “consistently presenting herself as assistant to the mayor,” and said Belleair Beach has no such position. VanScoyoc is the life partner of Mayor Joseph Manzo.
“We cannot have members of our committees representing themselves as holding a decision-making position. We have got to try to stop this. It’s been going on for months,” Swope said.
Swope told of an anonymous phone call that was made to the mayor of Belleair Shore where the caller identified herself as assistant to the mayor, and had made disparaging remarks concerning Belleair Shore’s town clerk, Barb Colucci, who is a resident of Belleair Beach.
Swope also cited other incidents between VanScoyoc and Colucci, and said Colucci felt harassed by VanScoyoc.
Swope concluded her remarks by saying, “This isn’t about the amount of work the Parks and Rec Board has put together and has done and accomplished. It’s about representing yourself as someone that is in a position of authority with this city. We cannot continue to have this happen.”
Most council members praised VanScoyoc’s performance as Park Board chairperson, citing, in particular, the recent events the Park Board had put together. Criticism centered around the actions she had taken outside that role. There was passionate comment about both.
Council Member Glenn Gunn said VanScoyoc talking to public officials as the “mayor’s assistant” was “very wrong,” while acknowledging she had done a good job as the Park and Rec Board leader. Gunn also referred to public records requests relating to VanScoyoc that were costly to the city.
Council Member Jody Shirley said VanScoyoc had “done a great job with the Park and Rec Board events,” but she found the emails and public records requests “eye opening,” and said, “I didn’t realize this was going on,” referring to requests made by Colucci for VanScoyoc’s email and phone records.
Manzo advised everyone to vote no on removing VanScoyoc from the Park Board. He criticized Swope’s reasons for recommending removal, saying VanScoyoc “is basically being harassed and removed in retaliation, because as everyone knows, Rita Swope is friends with Barbara Colucci. And that’s fine, but it’s not fine when it comes to the law.”
“I urge this council to run, not walk, away from this, because you’re making bad evidence, and there’s three cameras back there recording it,” Manzo said.
Near the end of the discussion, Council Member Robyn Ache said, in her view, VanScoyoc had done “an excellent job as Park Board chairman and should continue.” Ache concluded, “And that is what this is about.”
By the end of the commissioner comments, it appeared there were four who supported removal of VanScoyoc, and three who did not.
City Attorney Fred Reilly quoted from the city charter that “All persons appointed to the Park and Recreation Board shall serve at the sole pleasure of the City Council,” and said, “You have the ability to remove somebody at your pleasure from that board.”
The mayor called on VanScoyoc to speak, referring to her as “the accused” and suggesting that she be permitted more than the customary three minutes to make her comments.
VanScoyoc said the Park and Rec Board had accomplished much while she has been chairperson. She mentioned the Festival by the Sea and other events that “were done at no cost to the city, and made money.”
“I’ve been an excellent chairperson,” she said. “It’s absurd I have to defend myself for something that has nothing to do with my position.”
The final vote was 4-3, with Council Members Swope, Gunn, Shirley and Doug Gattis in favor of removal, and Manzo, Ache and Marvin Behm opposed.
Beach umbrella ban in Belleair Shore
A recent decision by neighboring Belleair Shore to ban beach umbrellas has caused considerable concern in Belleair Beach.
In the town of Belleair Shore, unlike other Pinellas County beach communities, residents own the beach in front of their property. Years ago, the town committed in legal documents to allow residents of Belleair Beach that are across Gulf Boulevard to use its three beach accesses to go to the beach. Residents south of 19th Street use the accesses almost exclusively to reach the beach.
Manzo said a letter he received on the subject summed up the reaction of him and his neighbors. It said they moved here so they could use those beaches, and that will be compromised because they can’t have shade (beach umbrellas), and that is going to affect property values.
Manzo said he had listened to the Belleair Shore meeting where the umbrella ban was passed. He said they did it because the beach had become a lot more crowded lately, and they felt they could discourage outsiders from coming by prohibiting umbrellas.
Council members and residents spoke passionately on the subject, most saying the use of the beach was important to them, and they wanted to get the beach umbrella ban rescinded.
Both Manzo and Ache, a medical doctor, pointed out the risks of skin cancer from sitting in the sun without the shade.
Shortly after the ban was put in place in mid-June, Manzo said he spoke to Belleair Shore Mayor Robert Schmidt about his concerns. He said he spoke as an individual, not in his official capacity as mayor, saying, “We (in Belleair Beach) have a right to go to the beach, and enjoy the beach.”
He said Schmidt’s response was sympathetic, and Schmidt promised to bring the topic up at the town’s July 21 commission meeting. Manzo urged Belleair Beach residents to go to that meeting.
Resident Rick Schock acknowledged that residents of Belleair Shore own the beach in front of their property, but said from the high tide line westward the beach is public property.
“I’m not going to have (the homeowner) tell me that I can’t use that land, that I can’t put my umbrella up. … They have no right to tell me what I can do on public land.”
Former Council Member Jewels Chandler advised taking a low-key approach to Belleair Shore.
“It seems like a lot of you are very passionate about this. And I understand that. But I personally don’t think coming at them with a fist showing is going to rectify the situation.”
She said what’s needed is for City Manager Lynn Rives to speak with Belleair Shore officials to work out a solution.
Council did agree to have Rives speak to Schmidt on behalf of the city to consider possible solutions.
Parking fee raised
Council agreed to let Rives raise the parking rate at City Hall, Morgan Park and the Marina. The hourly cost would go from $3 to $4 during the week, and from $4 to $5 on weekends and holidays.
Also, the daily rate will be eliminated altogether. It has been $15 Monday through Friday, and $20 on the weekend.
Rives said eliminating the all-day rate could be a moneymaker for the city. He said someone who in the past paid $20 to park all day on the weekend will now have to pay $60 if they stayed 12 hours ($5 times 12).
Gattis said, even with the new rates, parking all day in Belleair Beach lots “is still really cheap.”