TARPON SPRINGS — During the last year, the public comments portion of City Commission meetings has often become a public spectacle. Several outspoken residents have regularly taken to the City Hall podium, virtually and in person, to speak out against members of the board and some of their decisions.
Dating back before the pandemic, the first portion of the agenda has featured finger-pointing and name calling, the recitation of Bible verses and flung curses. But ever since the board voted 3-1 in favor of allowing a 400-unit apartment complex on a vacant 74-acre parcel in January, the public cries have intensified. A accusations of bribery and kickbacks, among other allegations, being slung at almost every member of the board, specifically the trio that voted in favor of the Anclote Harbors project: Mayor Chris Alahouzos, Vice Mayor Jacob Karr and Commissioner Connor Donovan.
During the board’s Feb. 9 regular session, Karr announced he’d had enough, as he called for the removal of the chair of the city’s Board of Adjustment, Chris Hrabovsky, due to what he considered defamatory remarks and emails.
“As a board we’ve been accused of doing evil things, receiving bribery and other aspects, and one individual who’s coming up and accusing us of this and spreading false information through emails is the chairman of our Board of Adjustment,” Karr said during his commission comments, though he didn’t mention Hrabovsky by name. “We all have freedom of speech, which I welcome to anybody. But when you have a significant amount of false information being spread about commissioners, about elected officials, about being accused of taking money to approve projects, of being called evil, to me that’s not something I take lightly. So, what I want to ask is there any desire by the board to remove this individual from the Board of Adjustment?”
After City Attorney Tom Trask noted there’s a provision in the city code that “allows for board members to be removed without cause by the commission,” Mayor Alahouzos told Karr he should request the item be put on the Feb. 23 agenda, a suggestion the vice mayor agreed with.
“OK, that’s fine,” Karr said. “I’ll request that at the next meeting.”
Earlier, Hrabovsky said the commissioners who voted for Anclote Harbor “won’t be elected to anything. Because this will follow you to every seat you run for — county, state, federal — everybody’s going to know. Because we’ll never, ever, let it go … and everyone will be consistently reminded of the evil that was done.”
Those words, as well as several emails, including one titled “Tarpon BOC Sold us Out!” that Hrabovsky reportedly sent to thousands of Tarpon residents, were the last straw, according to Karr.
“I never wanted to do this but he’s ultimately initiating it by the way he’s treating us as elected officials,” Karr said by phone after confirming his remarks were directed at Hrabovsky, who was reappointed to the BOA in July. His term set to expire on Oct. 31, 2022. “The emails he’s been sending are filled with false allegations. If he disagrees, OK, but to go after someone’s character, that’s far beyond and not what we need from someone serving on a city board, and I don’t take it lightly.”
When contacted for comment, Hrabovsky said via email, “I guess it should come as no surprise that the commissioner who has voted to not allow three and a half hours of emails from the public opposing the Anclote Harbor project to become public, that he would also attempt to silence his most vocal critic.”
Hrabovsky said he also sent an email to the city clerk, which he shared with the Suncoast News, that stated in part, “On Feb. 9th, 2021, Commissioner Karr asked the city manager to put the removal of the chairman of the Board Of Adjustment on the agenda for the next BOC meeting. He disagreed with things I had said at the BOC meetings and apparently what was sent in emails to approximately 9,000 voters, and has decided I should no longer be allowed to serve on my board. You may agree with or not agree with my statements at BOC meetings, however you must realize my right to say them. In the United States of America, we have the right to free speech, and these attempts to chill our speech cannot be tolerated by anyone of us ... especially those of us who have volunteered our time and efforts to serve on city boards.”
Karr reiterated his action wasn’t due to the disagreeing but rather the nature of Hrabosky’s comments.
“It’s not because I voted one way and he’s disagreeing. It’s because he’s accusing us of doing things that are against the law,” Karr said.
The City Commission was set to convene its next regular session on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. According to Karr, the item is scheduled to be the last one on the agenda. Meeting videos can be viewed on the Tarpon Springs City Hall YouTube channel.
Photo by JEFF ROSENFIELD
Tarpon Springs Vice Mayor Jacob Karr
Board of Adjustment chair Chris Hrabovsky speaks during the public comments portion of the Feb. 9 Board of Commissioners meeting. Vice Mayor Jacob Karr has called for Hrabovsky’s removal from the BOA due to what he considered defamatory remarks and emails sent by Hrabovsky.