TARPON SPRINGS — The installation ceremonies local governments hold following an election are typically full of tears and hugs and a lot of talk about respect and working together as a team.
Tarpon Springs’ 2019 ceremony, held April 9, featured all of the above, with outgoing and incoming lawmakers speaking about the importance of a cohesive commission.
“We are committed to work together, all of us as a team, to better serve the city of Tarpon Springs,” Mayor Chris Alahouzos, who was re-elected to a consecutive term March 12, said as he and fellow winners Connor Donovan and Townsend Tarapani were sworn in.
Donovan, a political neophyte, upset incumbent Commissioner Susan Miccio-Kikta. Tarapani was unopposed in his bid to return to the City Commission after being term-limited out of office in 2017.
The mayor’s decision later in the evening to bypass commissioners Rea Sieber and Jacob Karr in favor of Tarapani for the position of vice mayor, however, disrupted the feelings of unity right out of the gate.
“To continue the cooperation and the good work we have done the last three years it is important to have continuity, to choose the vice mayor who is eligible to serve all three years and not to step down due to term limits,” Alahouzos said when addressing Ordinance 2019-09. “Someone who already has the experience and served as vice mayor.”
Tarapani served as vice mayor during his previous terms on the commission.
Karr and Sieber have one year left to serve on their current three-year terms.
While he admitted all four commissioners were good candidates for the role, Alahouzos stated, “There is only one person I believe who has these qualities, and I believe this is Commissioner Tarapani and I enthusiastically I encourage the motion be made to nominate him as the vice-mayor.”
Karr then made the motion to approve the recommendation and after it was seconded by Donovan, Sieber revealed her thoughts about the matter.
“First of all, it’s tradition to have the senior commissioner move on to vice mayor. It’s very rare that does not happen,” she said “So, obviously I’m very disappointed. I’m committed to the city. It’s apparent I’ve always been involved…and I will continue to do that, obviously.”
Sieber, a past president of the Tarpon Springs Merchants Association who owns a business at the Sponge Docks, added: “For me, it’s a disappointment. I don’t know if it’s a political or a personal move, but I just wanted to say what I thought.”
Tarapani said he was appreciative and surprised by the nomination.
“I certainly was not expecting it, but I will take it if the commission so chooses,” he said.
The motion then passed by a vote of 4-1, with Sieber voicing the lone dissenting vote.
But the issue wasn’t dead.
During their commission comments four-and-a-half-hours later Sieber reiterated her disappointment.
“Obviously, I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t selected (vice) mayor,” Sieber said. “It’s been a tradition to select the senior commissioner to be vice-mayor and I feel disrespected.”
She added, “I’m very disappointed that protocol was not followed, no disrespect to you, vice-mayor. But I will continue to be involved and do what I need to do because I respect this position and our citizens.”
Although he made the initial motion and voted in favor of the mayor’s recommendation, Karr also expressed displeasure with the decision.
“I also want to express frustration on the mayor’s appointment,” Karr said. “I’m happy to support the mayor and support the vice-mayor, but I do think it was not the most respectful thing to the current commissioners who’ve sat with you for the past two years, at least, to bypass two of them.”
Alahouzos responded by saying it was “understandable that some people are going to be disappointed because they were not selected.” During his years as a manager for telecommunications company Verizon, the mayor said, he “never promoted anybody based on seniority or based on popularity.”
He added: “I always promoted people based on qualifications and availability. This is what I exercised today.”
Shortly after that, the mayor adjourned the meeting. But the issue appears far from dead.
In an email sent a day later, Sieber reiterated her feelings about not being named vice mayor.
“Of course, I was disappointed to not be appointed vice mayor, as is the tradition with senior commissioners, which I am,” Sieber wrote. “But I will continue to do and vote for what is best Tarpon Springs, because that’s who I am. I will never be a PUPPET, and there are people in town who don’t like me because of that.
“As a commissioner, I have worked hard to listen to our citizens and business owners and act on their concerns.”
She wouldn’t let this incident stand in the way of working for the people of Tarpon Springs, Sieber added.
“I have many things I want to accomplish in my final year as commissioner and have been working on projects for some time,” she wrote. “I hope that this new board will work together to move forward and not let political and personal reasons direct them.”
When contacted for comment, Mayor Alahouzos restated the reasons behind his decision.
Asked if the decision could affect the working relationship of the commission, Alahouzos said: “I hope not. I don’t think it will. Commissioner Sieber said she would continue to work for the people of Tarpon Springs, and I believe her because that’s what we were elected to do. At the end of the day, we all have one vote. The position of vice mayor is only a title. No one commissioner is more important than another.”
The vice mayor takes the gavel at City Commission meetings if the mayor is absent.