ST. PETE BEACH — Rick Falkenstein was picked Tuesday to serve as interim District 2 commissioner until an election can be held in August to permanently fill the City Commission seat vacated when Jim Parent unexpectedly resigned last month.
Falkenstein told the commission he would be a good fit to serve because he wants to help support "teamwork in City Hall" and to help bring all factions together.
Before making the selection, the commission interviewed Falkenstein, as well as the other three candidates — Brian Cummins, John Lazzari and Joanne Lentino.
He will be sworn into office at the next regular meeting, May 27, and will serve until voters pick a permanent commissioner, a choice tentatively scheduled to coincide with the Aug. 26 primary.
Once sworn in, he will be the third member of the commission with close ties to Pass-a-Grille.
The others are Melinda Pletcher, who officially represents the area, and Mayor Maria Lowe, who lives in the Pass-a-Grille area. She previously served on the city's Historic Preservation Board and is a member of the Pass-a-Grille Woman's Club.
The city's charter requires that an election be held 60 to 90 days following the creation of a vacancy. It also requires that qualification for that election occur no less than 45 days prior to the election.
Several issues involving the election are still unresolved — the commission may not be able to formally set the date of the election within the time frame required by the charter, and to follow the charter's requirements could force a costly special election.
A special election would cost the city about $7,000 — more than double the cost of participating in a regularly scheduled countywide election.
Falkenstein is eligible to run for election to the post he is now filling, but has not announced his intentions.
Falkenstein has been general manager of his family's business, the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant in Pass-a-Grille, since 1985.
He told the commission he hopes to help the city's "little" businesses survive.
"We are the heartbeat of St. Pete Beach," he said, calling on other small businesses to work together for the betterment of the city.
"There are not many small-business people sitting on the commission today," Falkenstein said.
Falkenstein, a resident since 1974, never served on any city boards, primarily because of a city rule barring relatives of serving commissioners from such participation in city government. His brother, Bruno Falkenstein, served on the commission for 12 years in the 1980s and 1990s.
In his application for the commission post, he wrote about his "fondest memory" of his childhood summers in "my personal paradise," including helping to sound the volunteer horn at the Pass-a-Grille fire department.
In other action, the commission accepted a new proposed contract from its legal firm, Bryant Miller Olive, in anticipation of the July 1 retirement of City Attorney Mike Davis.
According to the contract, Susan Churuti would become the city's new attorney.
She stressed that her firm is interested in continuing to provide legal services, but would also be willing to step aside and help the city seek bids from other firms.
"Whoever comes into this job is going to have their hands full," Churuti said, adding: "If you are ready to say you want to terminate (the contract), we are fine with that, just tell us."
The commission postponed any action and will discuss both the contract and the possibility of seeking proposals for legal services until its nest meeting.