TREASURE ISLAND — In an about-face, Commissioners Phil Collins and Carol Coward say they now would only support exploring the elimination of the city's Police Department in favor of contracting with the Sheriff's Office if 25 percent of voters petition the city.
At a meeting two weeks ago, Collins and Coward had sided with Commissioner Tim Ramsberger in looking at possible cost savings by switching to the Sheriff's Office for police services.
But when it came to a vote Tuesday to move ahead having staff investigate the option, both said they wanted to wait to see if there is more interest among city residents.
"I've ridden with the police on many occasions and I'm solidly behind them," Collins said. "But in this case you are damned if you do and damned if you don't."
Unless more signatures are turned in than the 171 collected on a recent petition asking the commission to study the issue, Coward said she isn't in favor of moving ahead.
City Clerk Dawn Foss said the city's charter requires signatures from 20 percent of voters for a citizen initiative to place an issue on the ballot but later corrected that figure to 25 percent — 1,373 voters.
The two commissioners' reversal left only Ramsberger in favor of the move.
"I can't believe you won't want to see what it (switching police services) is going to look like," he said when he realized he had lost support for the idea.
But Commissioner Alan Bildz and Mayor Bob Minning continued to say they aren't interested because they don't think residents support it.
"I don't see a wholesale outcry of support," Minning said.
Several residents spoke in support of and against the idea.
"I've been through three of these exercises over the years and you are going to waste a lot of staff time and money in a futile exercise," said Julian Fant, a former mayor and commissioner.
But resident Bob Weber said he supported exploring the possible cost savings.
"It appears to be a glowing success for St. Pete Beach," he told commissioners. "It will pass or fail on its own merit."
Greatest Show on Turf
In other business, commissioners approved a request to hold the annual Greatest Show on Surf event by the Gulf Beaches Rotary in 2015 on city beachfront despite an appeal by several people concerned about disruption of sea turtle and shorebird activities.
Members of the Suncoast Seabird Partnership said vehicle activity on the beach by events like the Rotary carnival is "disastrous for seabirds and turtles."
"You need to be good stewards of your beaches," Andrea Anderson said.
But Minning said Treasure Island beaches are monitored by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Audubon Society and there is no documented evidence that events like the carnival have caused environmental damage.
Bildz disagreed and was the only commissioner to vote against allowing the Rotary event.
"Just because you can't document damage doesn't mean it doesn't happen," he said.
The city is being sued by several city hotel owners who want the commission to stop allowing festivals and other events on the beach.