ST. PETE BEACH — The city's special brand of politics blasted off this week, with Mayor Mike Finnerty firing a political rival from the city's Board of Adjustment.
It all started last week when Steve McFarlin, 54, told Finnerty that he planned to run for Finnerty's job as mayor.
"He was the first person I let know. It was a very jovial conversation. He also said he was 90 percent sure he was running for re-election," McFarlin said Tuesday.
He said he and Finnerty agreed "not to resort to personal attacks" during the campaign leading up to the March election.
Within a day of that conversation, Finnerty told Deputy City Clerk Pam Prell he was replacing McFarlin with Tom DeYampert, a member of the city's Historic Preservation Board.
McFarlin said he found out about his removal on Monday when Prell called to tell him he would be getting an official letter from the city.
"Quite frankly, I am mystified by this action," McFarlin said in an e-mail to Finnerty on Tuesday. "After my years of service I feel an explanation is in order."
Ironically, McFarlin was appointed to the Board of Adjustment more than two years ago by Finnerty.
Under the city's ordinances, commission members can appoint and remove members of city boards at will.
McFarlin said he served as co-chairman of the board, had never missed a meeting, and never had any of his decisions appealed.
He said Finnerty also did not inform the leaders of the two boards either about his removal or DeYampert's appointment.
At the time DeYampert was serving on the city's Historic Board as an appointee of Commissioner Al Halpern.
"It was a childish move on the mayor's part, but I have grown to expect childish things on his part. For him this was a personal attack and he took it to heart," Halpern said.
Halpern was critical of Finnerty's move to transfer DeYampert to the Board of Adjustment.
"I always try to keep my Board of Adjustment appointees on the safe side. Tom owns rental properties and has had issues with board rulings before. I hope he doesn't get into any conflicts and recuses himself when that happens," Halpern said.
"I removed him because he is running against me as mayor," Finnerty acknowledged. "I don't think I should have to put up with somebody I appointed trying to erase my hard work as mayor of St. Pete Beach. I am tired of arrogance posing as virtue."
Halpern said he is not supporting Finnerty for re-election and had intended to run for the mayoral post himself "if there were no other viable candidate."
He said McFarlin, who retired several years ago as president of Dew Cadillac in St. Petersburg, is such a candidate, but stopped just short of endorsing him.
"Al Halpern and I haven't seen eye to eye since I helped him to get into office. Most of the time he doesn't know what is happening," Finnerty responded.
The qualifying period for commission and mayoral candidates does not open until Dec. 6 and closes at noon on Dec. 15.
"The movers and shakers in the city decided I should stay as commissioner in District 1," Halpern said.
When asked who those "movers and shakers" are, he described them as "SOLV people, hoteliers and residents" who have supported him in the past.
SOLV (Save Our Little Village) is a political action group that wrote and promoted changes to the city's comprehensive plan that were approved by voters in 2008 and are now the subject of multiple lawsuits from supporters of the rival political action group CRG (Citizens for Responsible Growth).
"The mid-term has everybody stirred up," Halpern said.
As to why McFarlin is running for mayor, he says the years-long battle over development has done "immeasurable damage" to the city.
"We need to balance things a little better. This hometown democracy push has really devastated the community. I want to try to get things back to normal," McFarlin said.