Garvey and Hibbard Face-off on the Beach
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - Mayor Frank Hibbard and former Mayor Rita Garvey met at a candidate forum sponsored by the Clearwater Beach Association last week, the first of several forums planned in Clearwater's 2008 mayoral election campaign.
The event was conducted in a question/answer format, with questions submitted by attendees. Not surprisingly, many of the questions concerned Clearwater Beach issues.
With some beach residents concerned with the length of docks recently proposed in the Old Florida District, Hibbard was emphatic that "we don't want docks to go out 110 feet" into Mandalay Channel. Garvey claimed that she was unfamiliar with the issue, and said that she could not make judgments when she did not have all the information.
Parking has been the eternal issue on the Clearwater Beach, and both candidates were asked how they would resolve it. Hibbard said, "We need more parking; it's always been a question of how much we're willing to pay." Hibbard said that he would not build a garage on the sand, and added that garages were needed on both South and North Beach. He suggested buying land between Coronado and Hamden to build a garage on South Beach that could later be expanded.
Garvey complained that Beach Walk has reduced parking capacity, and said that she would have required better planning, making additional parking available before Beach Walk construction started. While she agreed that a garage should not be built on the sand, Garvey offered no specific solution for the area's current parking woes.
With a recent appeals court decision upholding the grandfathered short-term rental use of 31 homes on Clearwater Beach, Hibbard and Garvey were asked how they would deal with short-term rentals. Hibbard said that the city would attack the issues created by short-term rentals with code enforcement and policing actions. In addition, Hibbard described the city's recent code amendment that prohibits fractional ownership of properties in residential neighborhoods.
Garvey said that having lost in court, she did not know if there is anything that could be done except to make sure that the current law was enforced and to keep track of the grandfathered short-term rental properties in case circumstances change.
With the January referendum on property taxes on the horizon, both candidates were asked to comment on how they would deal with a reduction in ad-velorem tax revenues. Hibbard responded that public safety would remain his number one priority, and would look to the Parks and Recreation and Library departments to absorb the bulk of the projected $2.8-million in cuts that would be required if the referendum passes.
Garvey opined that the City Council should have been proactive in working against the property tax referendum. Garvey said that she is opposed to the referendum and is encouraging others to vote against it, but she had no specific recommendations on where to make cuts should the referendum pass.
The two candidates differed in their views on the city's Community Development Board (CDB), comprised of appointed citizens who make decisions on approving site plans on proposed development projects. Hibbard was happy with the board, pointing out that its members have professional expertise that the Council lacks, and that the membership has been refined to remove past pro-development leanings. Garvey, on the other hand, thinks that the Council should make site plan decisions, and that the CDB should be relegated to an advisory capacity.
According to one impartial observer, the candidate's responses clearly showed the difference between 6-years in-office and 8-years out-of-office, with Hibbard's thorough knowledge of the issues of the day countered by Garvey's assertion that better planning would have eliminated many of today's problems before they occurred.
Hibbard and Garvey will meet in two more candidate forums before the January 29th election. The Morningside Homeowners Association forum is tentatively scheduled for January 22nd, and the City of Clearwater will host a CVIEW-televised debate on January 16th.
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