ST. PETERSBURG — A crude expression in a civic newsletter has touched off a feud between a prominent neighborhood group and City Council member Jeff Danner.
The June newsletter for the Council of Neighborhood Associations of South Pinellas County included a column penned by Travis Jarman that blasted the city for holding workshops with the billboard industry.
Jarman argued that the city isn't letting residents participate in workshops with billboard company representatives, resulting in proposed higher and brighter digital signs that don't have popular support.
"Without any significant discussion, (council members) bent over for representatives of Clear Channel and CBS outdoor," Jarman wrote.
Danner scrapped a Monday meeting with CONA, objecting to Jarman's wording, which many interpret as shorthand for a sexual act.
"Putting 'bent over' in a newsletter is kind of rude," Danner said. "You can agree to disagree, or be vehemently opposed to what I have to say, but name calling and bashing your elected officials is not a productive way to build relationships."
CONA president Will Michaels said Danner was "unduly offended" by Jarman's phrase, which he said was a typo. It should have read "bent over backwards," Michaels said.
"I don't think Travis meant any disrespect whatsoever," Michaels said.
But Jarman said it wasn't a typo. "I wrote that after we weren't allowed to speak at the last workshop," Jarman said. "In the light of day, maybe 'kowtow' would have been better. I don't think 'bent over backwards' sends the right message."
City Council member Karl Nurse, a former CONA president, said that while Jarman's phrase was inflammatory, sometimes that's the point of a newsletter.
"If you take the passion out of it, you won't engage people as much," Nurse said. "I thought his column was fine. He had a reasonable complaint. The nature of our job is we meet with people who disagree with us."
But Council Chair Leslie Curran sided with Danner.
"The newsletter was very insulting," Curran said. "Don't bite the hand that feeds you. They want to ask for our support, and then they insult us. It was completely unprofessional."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.