GULFPORT — It was standing room only in City Council chambers where five candidates for the Ward 1 seat squared off in a community forum.
The candidates in Thursday night's event were as diverse as the city itself. Incumbent Judy Ryerson is vying to keep her seat against challengers Rosalie "Roz" Barbieri, David Hastings, Stanley Solomons and David Steinke.
Questions submitted showed that the key concerns were residents' role in government, cleaning up Clam Bayou and establishing a mooring field.
Role of residents
The council's move to have residents who want to speak at meetings fill out a card before each meeting with their names, addresses and questions was the first issue posed to the candidates.
While all the candidates agreed that public comment is important to the city, they had different ways of addressing the issue.
Barbieri and Ryerson said residents shouldn't have to fill out cards prior to speaking. Solomons and Hastings said they want to hear everyone's comments.
However, Hastings said, "Public input should be done prior to meetings. Anyone who stands up at council meetings is desperate. It means they haven't gotten a response from their council person."
The issue of a mooring field in Boca Ciega Bay, which has vocal supporters on each side of the issue, did not get a clear yea or nay from any of the candidates.
Hastings questioned the need for a mooring field when the marina isn't filled. He said he would be willing to support it on a limited basis for sailboats only.
Steinke said there was a problem with the mooring field because the harbormaster would have the power to allow the number and kinds of boats parked there.
Ryerson, Barbieri and Solomons all expressed fears about the city's ability to police dumping off moored boats.
"They can see and hear the police boats coming," Ryerson said.
"The people who live on the boats would bring in revenue. They'd eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores," Solomons said. "The bad part is humans create human waste. We can't police every boat."
Somewhat surprisingly, the candidates were in favor of keeping the controversial trolley running.
"People use it to get to Palms Hospital. It looks good. People recognize it, I say, 'Keep it,' " Solomons said.
"It should be stopping at hotels on the beach," Barbieri said.
Hastings said it has enough riders that the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will take it over when the city's three-year grant runs out.
Steinke said, "Take the toll off the thing. Make it a free trolley."
Ryerson said, "Ridership is up because we are doing more advertising."
Police and fire
The candidates were opposed to the prospect of outsourcing the police and fire departments but Ryerson, who sits on council, added facts about how difficult it is to meet safety service costs.
"We take in $2.5 million in revenue from property taxes. It costs $3.5 million to run the police department and $1.2 million for the fire department. We've been making up the difference from the marina, fees in the building department and sanitation."
How to restore the estuary is one of the most contentious issues in the city. The candidates' opinions reflected an existing split on the issue.
"If they say they are going to start to clean up the water that is going into it, that's a start. We need to see what is going to happen," Hastings said.
"I don't know how or why the city has let Clam Bayou get to the place it is now. The city is waiting for someone to swoop in and take care of it," Steinke said.
"The bayou is filling up. It needs to be cleaned out. Go in and take selected, most polluted areas and clean that out," Ryerson said.
"The toxins don't just stay there. It filters out and gets to the beach. We need to do something," Barbieri said.
"Clam Bayou is a mud flat. It's only 6 inches more shallow than it was 500 years ago. There are toxins. They are at bottom. The most polluted area is the area that was dredged," Solomons said.
Quality of life
The candidates, all retirees except Hastings, who works as a CPA, expressed an interest in keeping the eclectic small-town feel of Gulfport.
Ryerson, who has lived in Gulfport since 1953, said she would like to see no more high rises in the city despite living in one herself.
"I'd gladly go back in a house. Gulfport is a great place to raise children."
Barbieri, who has lived in Gulfport for eight years said she would like to change the law to limit building heights to 30 feet.
"We should keep the city the same as it is right now," Steinke, who has lived in Gulfport for 23 years, said.
Hastings, whose wife owns the Habana Café, said he likes that he is one stoplight from work.
And Solomons, who, as a six-year resident is the newcomer of the group, said, "I like the idea I can go out my door and in five minutes be at some of the best restaurants in the county."