BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine and commissioners Suzy Sofer and Karen Rafferty have been sworn into office following their March 14 electoral wins.

Arbutine, who has been in office for more than 20 years, was automatically reappointed after no one qualified to run against him, while longtime incumbent Sofer and civic board member Rafferty won a three-candidate race over Adele Hoffman for the two open commission seats. 

Before the trio was sworn in by City Clerk Alexis Silcox at the end of the March 20 commission meeting, Arbutine and Vice Mayor Taylour Shimkus praised the candidates for a stress-free campaign season.

“I just want to say that I think that all three candidates displayed themselves properly. It was a well-run campaign by everyone, and everyone should be proud of the results,” the mayor said after City Attorney Tom Trask read a resolution confirming the election results. “It was a worthwhile exercise, because to get out there and put yourself out there is not an easy thing to do.” 

Arbutine also encouraged residents to volunteer for civic boards, as many use that as a springboard to local leadership.

“Please, stay involved,” he said. “This is what we need … because there are plenty of issues that we need to put our heads together and solve.”

He said the difference between federal and local politics is “in federal politics there’s a rope and to solve a problem everyone is pulling on opposite ends.”

Arbutine added: “In local politics, people are all pulling on the same side of the rope. So, I want to say congratulations even if you didn’t win, and congratulation to those who did win.”

Shimkus thanked “the three women who were running for doing an outstanding job and putting nothing but positive in the community. … Kudos to you for raising the bar, and thank you for being such great role models.” 

Commissioner Joe Barkley echoed those thoughts, while Sofer, who has served on the commission for more than 16 years, said it was the “most enjoyable race” she’s been in while praising her opponents.

“These two ladies ran an election (campaign) with style and grace, and I didn’t think that would be in the same sentence as an election,” she said, adding she hoped Hoffman would stay involved “because I’m sure you are an asset to this community.”

After the resolution was unanimously approved, Arbutine adjourned the meeting and the dais cleared as the three winning candidates, with friends and family by their side, were sworn in by Silcox.

Following the brief ceremony the newly configured commission reconvened, and Sofer was appointed vice mayor while Rafferty thanked her supporters and pledged to do her best during her first two-year term.

“I’m touched beyond words in the confidence that my neighbors and friends have shown in me and I’m anxious to prove that I’m worthy,” said Rafferty, a longtime veteran of international commercial and retail development who was a member of the city’s Planning Board and the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee.

“I look forward to working with everybody,” she said. “I know I have a lot to learn, but I’m a quick study. So, I’m hoping that very soon I’ll find opportunities to make a positive impact on the community.”


In other matters

During her monthly report, City Administrator Debra Sullivan said she is continuing to work on residents’ issues, including signage near the boat ramp and moored boats off the Bluffs.

“We’ve got some upcoming information that is going to be extremely beneficial and informative to the residents and everyone involved there,” Sullivan said of the boat situation.

Two residents used their public comments to speak about their ongoing problem with overgrown bamboo.

Mayor Arbutine said staff is “working on the issue right now,” noting they’ve “never had this issue in Belleair Bluffs, so we’re trying to classify what it is and what we can and cannot do, legally.”

He said officials plan to address the subject during the next commission meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 10, at 6 p.m.