SEMINOLE — Mayor Jimmy Johnson attended his first City Council meeting in almost a month last Tuesday.
Well, his voice was at City Hall. His body was tucked away at home where he is recovering from a March 2 lung transplant.
"I'm very happy to welcome back Mayor Johnson, who is attending this meeting by telephone," Vice Mayor Tom Barnhorn announced at the beginning.
City Manager Frank Edmunds asked, "Mayor Johnson, are you there?"
As Johnson replied, "yes," a big picture of him beaming his trademark grin was flashed onto the screens at the front of the council chambers. People in the audience laughed.
City staff members patched Johnson into the meeting to help decide the name of Seminole's newest park. Council members tabled the decision last month when the vote tied. Three council members wanted to name the park, at 113th Street and 74th Avenue, for the city's most famous landmark, the water tower that's painted like a giant birdcage, which is at the center of the park. The other three council members wanted to name it after the nearest subdivision, Ridgewood Groves.
But two weeks between votes had given some council members a chance to think about the name. This time, the choice was between Water Tower Park and Bob Stewart Park.
Stewart, a Pinellas County commissioner, is retiring. Seminole council member Pete Hofstra suggested that Stewart be honored, in part, because he helped get the funding to paint the water tower.
But that did not convince other council members. They voted 5-2 in favor of Water Tower Park. Johnson joined the majority.
"It was an experience," Johnson said Thursday. "I don't think I've ever attended a meeting like that."
Johnson said letting someone attend a meeting remotely is fine in emergencies, such as illness, but he doesn't think it's a good idea for all meetings.
If it's to be done again, he said, the process needs to be fine-tuned. Audience members could hear every time Johnson rustled papers, and there was a 10-second lag in communications.
"I was watching on my TV set, too," Johnson said. "I probably shouldn't have done that."
That's when the 10-second delay became really confusing, he said.
It's unclear whether Johnson will attend any more meetings by phone. He has an appointment Tuesday for doctors to take a look at how his new lung is doing.
If it's doing well, he said, it's possible he could be cleared to return to work. If that happens, he plans to be at the April 22 meeting.
"I'm going to try to be there personally. This is kind of a nice thing to do, but I still prefer the contact," he said. "Right now, I plan to be at the next meeting if the doctors let me."
Johnson said he's doing well but he has some days that are not as good as others. He's walking and riding his bike. He also carries a face mask to help protect him from inhaling germs because it could be deadly for him to catch a cold or virus.
"I have no choice. I have to do good," Johnson said.