ST. PETE BEACH — A SOLV-sponsored community meeting will go on as scheduled Jan. 6, but the mayor's State of the City speech will no longer be a part of the event.
"I am disappointed; I liked the idea of giving my first State of the City address," said Mayor Mike Finnerty, who canceled the speech Monday. "It would have been an opportunity to outreach to everybody."
Instead, Finnerty will chair a commission workshop previously scheduled to discuss code enforcement issues. He said he called SOLV on Monday to say he could not attend the group's meeting.
City Manager Mike Bonfield said Tuesday he knew SOLV planned a meeting but did not know the date and time until the group's postcard was mailed.
"I think it slipped people's minds that the commission already had a meeting scheduled," Bonfield said.
Save Our Little Village (SOLV) mailed the postcard to 7,000 registered voters last weekend to announce the mayor would give his "first State of the City Address" at a SOLV-sponsored meeting.
The meeting was called primarily to update voters on the "progress of the St. Pete Beach Comprehensive Development Plan."
That plan, written by SOLV, was approved by voters in a special referendum election in June.
"The event will go on as planned," said Lorraine Huhn, SOLV chairperson.
The SOLV meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 6 in the Ibis Room at the Sandpiper Beach Resort, 6000 Gulf Blvd. City voters are invited, Huhn said, but seating is limited. The postcard announcing the meeting asks voters to call or e-mail to reserve a seat.
"People are asking us what's going on, particularly about lawsuits. This meeting is a way to get that information out and give people a chance to ask questions," Huhn said.
The SOLV plan's compliance with state law will be considered at a special state administrative hearing at 9 a.m. Feb. 10 in the City Hall commission chambers.
An administrative law judge will hear challenges filed by Dr. William Pyle.
Pyle and others have filed several related lawsuits against the city in an attempt to have the voter-approved development plans declared invalid. SOLV is a named party in many of the lawsuits.
Huhn said one of the "biggest objections" to the referendum process was that some people felt SOLV didn't give voters enough information before the election.
"We are offering people an opportunity to come and sit and listen. If they choose not to come, they will be spitting in the wind if they continue to criticize," Huhn said.
Huhn said development is even more important to the city, given the current economic climate.
"We are seeing empty storefronts on Corey Avenue, empty lots on Gulf Boulevard, and none of us are in a position to spend more money on taxes," Huhn said.
The mayor's plan to give a special address on the state of the city at the SOLV meeting drew criticism from Commissioners Linda Chaney and Harry Metz.
Both were associated with Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG), a political action group that opposed the SOLV plan.
"I was surprised to learn about the mayor's speech in a postcard," said Chaney. She said the now-canceled speech would have "blurred the line between public and private interests."
Chaney added that a "state of the city" meeting was a good idea but would be better hosted by the city and given publicly at the community center with all the commissioners present.
Metz, however, was typically more blunt in his criticism, calling Finnerty's planned speech at the SOLV meeting an "act of insolent indifference" that is evidence of Finnerty's "tireless commitment to SOLV."
Meanwhile, Finnerty said he had not finished drafting the speech, but said he hopes to give it later when the city is "not so politically charged."
As for the current "state of the city," Finnerty said he believes St. Pete Beach is "headed in the right direction" and despite the economic downturn, has a "bright future."