PINELLAS PARK — In a city known for robust public debate, City Council members seemed to careen from one spat to another as they worked their way through the agenda last week.
The sparring started early, with the first speaker from the audience tangling with council member Rick Butler. The resident, Tim Robinson, ended by suggesting that Butler needed to be taught how to behave so Pinellas Park meetings could remain orderly.
But the main bout came toward the end of the evening when Butler pretended to snore into his microphone and implied that former Mayor Cecil Bradbury had saluted Butler by raising his finger in a vulgar gesture.
The Butler-vs.-Bradbury flareup began when the council member made a motion that few in the audience could hear because he had failed to turn on his microphone.
Bradbury called from the audience: "Microphone."
Butler tapped his microphone and, when there was no sound, he turned it on and asked, "Is that better?"
Bradbury: "There should be no way to turn them off."
Butler: "You would want to sit here and listen to me go (making exaggerated snoring noises) all night long, Cecil? Only you. Only you would like to sit there and listen to me go (snoring noise)."
Bradbury: "There should be nothing said or done up there that is not recorded."
Butler: "Well, thank you, Cecil. We appreciate the input. Can you hear me, Cecil? Raise your finger. Not that one. The right one, not the one you just flipped me. Sorry about that, Cecil."
Butler made the motion, and Mayor Bill Mischler opened the floor to public comment. As Bradbury walked to the podium, someone in the audience called out: "Get him, Cecil."
Butler began making snoring noises and rubbing things against his microphone.
Bradbury: "It's state law that you have to have the things recorded, and they don't always record if you don't have the mikes on. But I'd like the public to know the finger I was giving Rick was my thumb, not any other as it was insinuated. The public needs to know that I don't do that."
Butler: "I didn't insinuate that at all."
Earlier in the evening, Robinson came to the podium to speak against a county proposal to encourage developers to provide affordable housing.
"The phrase 'affordable housing' is a code word," Robinson said. "It's a code word for government-subsidized housing, or Section 8 housing. … It's not good for Pinellas Park."
When Robinson's three minutes were up, Butler asked him to stay at the podium. Butler quizzed him about statements Robinson had made about the definition of affordable housing and how many subsidized families were living in Pinellas Park. Robinson had said Mischler estimated there were 1,000.
Butler quizzed Robinson, asking for details and evidence to back up his claims.
Robinson finally said, "You're trying to put me on the spot."
Robinson turned to Mischler and said, "He's asking questions to put me on the spot, which I do not appreciate. I came here to give my point of view. You're not even supposed to be speaking in this three-minute period."
Butler: "Sir, if I want to ask you questions, all you have to do is say, 'Sir, I don't want to answer it.' "
Robinson: "Sir, I don't want to answer it because I know you."
Mischler then denied telling Robinson there were 1,000 families living in rentals in Pinellas Park.
Robinson: "Yes, you did. You told me there were well over a thousand just about two years ago."
Mischler: "I'm sure there are, but I can't tell you how many."
Mischler commented that the number of rentals will likely increase if the economy gets worse. Robinson said he was taking up too much time: "Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I do not thank you, Mr. Butler."
As Robinson seated himself, Butler said something that can't be heard on a tape of the meeting.
Mischler attempted to move on, saying he wanted to run an orderly meeting.
Robinson: "Well, you better teach him how to do it."