TARPON SPRINGS – The City Commission’s decision last month to construct a 700-foot sidewalk extension on the east side of South Spring Boulevard continues to divide the city, with several residents, and one city commissioner, still upset over the unexpected move.
After tabling the talk of adding a sidewalk on the east side of the narrow, waterfront drive in January, the commission revisited the subject during a June 11 discussion about making South Spring Boulevard a one-way street.
The one-way proposal was quickly shot down and the idea of moving forward with the $92,000 extension was quickly brought up and ultimately approved by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Rea Sieber voting against it.
Sieber, a South Spring Boulevard homeowner, requested the item be reconsidered during the June 25 City Commission, citing fairness to the residents who weren’t able to speak at the previous meeting because the issue was not advertised in advance.
“I have a lot of reasons for bringing this vote back for reconsideration,” Sieber said. “I think that was bad government and lacked complete transparency. There was no notification to the residents that may be affected nor was connecting sidewalks included in the agenda.”
Sieber said area residents “were completely” confused with the commission’s decision to vote on something that was not advertised in advance. Although City Attorney Jay Daigneault reiterated the move was in no way unlawful, she said, “To me it felt like we snuck in another vote on our residents without allowing them to be heard.”
“The reconsideration of this vote is about doing the right thing for our residents and about transparency,” she added.
Although Sieber could not make a motion to bring the item to a vote because she was on the losing side of that vote and there was no motion made by the other commissioners present, Mayor Chris Alahouzos allowed the public to speak.
Nearly a dozen residents, including former City Commissioner Susan Miccio-Kikta and former Mayor Anita Protos spoke about the decision.
Kikta said voting on an item that had not been the subject of a public notice was “not very transparent” and “very underhanded.” Protos, however, supported the commission’s decision, stating: “They did not do anything underhanded. They did not do anything wrong. They acted within their rights.”
While no one questioned the legality of the issue, the perception that a government body was trying to sneak a vote past unsuspecting citizens was troubling to some.
“My concern is not whether you had the legal right or not,” Tim Kefalas said. “But why do we even have these meetings if you can just go ahead and add things on that weren’t there to begin with?”
Kefalas added he believed the full commission needed to take another look at the item and say, “we should do this the right way and have a vote.”
Despite the pleas there was no motion made to reconsider the item and the motion died, ending the discussion.
After the meeting, Sieber and Alahouzos commented on the decision.
“I felt that even though our attorney told us it was legal, to vote on something that was not notified to the public or to give the public an opportunity to be heard was wrong,” Sieber said via email. “It showed disrespect to citizens affected and was bad government on our part and lacked transparency.”
Alahouzos reiterated the decision to add the sidewalk was made for the safety of the residents.
“As I stated before, our first option is to have a sidewalk on the west side of South Spring so pedestrians and bikers can enjoy the beautiful bayou,” the mayor said, noting that option was going to be ex-pensive and time-consuming. “In the meantime, we have to think about safety. The sidewalk is on city property, not private property and yes, some residents will be affected, but we have to consider the safety of our citizens first. So, to me it’s a safety issue, simple as that.”
South Spring resident Jean Lindsey, the only neighbor present at the prior meeting and whose home sits directly in the line of the new sidewalk, was distraught over the decision.
“I definitely lost faith in the Tarpon Springs government, that’s for sure,” Lindsey said by phone, noting her family has deep roots in the area fishing and shrimping industry through the Rusty Bellies restaurant.
Lindsey added when she bought her home three years ago, she “never saw this happening. They’re talking about safety but what about my safety when there’s people walking by my bedroom window?”