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Beach resident planning recall try

(ran Beach edition)

A man known for his feuds with beach officials will start a campaign to recall city Commissioner Bruno Falkenstein.

Chester Chmielewski, 59, said he will hold an organizational meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Warren Webster Community Center, 1500 Pass-a-Grille Way.

"I am convinced that Mr. Falkenstein, as well as other members of the City Commission, are using their position for their own personal benefit and their own personal gain," said Chmielewski, a St. Pete Beach resident who ran for a Pinellas County Commission seat in 1974 but lost to Charles E. Rainey.

Chmielewski said he wants Falkenstein out of office because of what he called a conflict of interest regarding the July 3 Spin Doctors concert. The popular band performed in front of the Hurricane restaurant, which co-sponsored the concert and is managed by Falkenstein and owned by his family.

Residents have accused Falkenstein and Mayor Kevan Finch of knowing the Spin Doctors was the featured act but not reporting that to the board when the special event was approved without discussion. Instead of the estimated crowd of 2,500, more than 8,000 showed up, and hundreds were turned away.

Scores of residents called and wrote city officials to complain about the traffic, noise and debris generated by the free concert.

St. Pete Beach commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. today in City Hall to discuss the benefit concert and the administration's proposals to limit event attendance on Pass-a-Grille. A check for the Friends of the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum, the benefactor, also will be presented. The recall is not part of the agenda.

Some city officials are not taking Chmielewski's campaign seriously.

"You're not giving him any publicity on this, are you? Oh, come on," City Manager Danny Walker said Tuesday, after being asked about the recall.

In 1991, city commissioners nearly filed a lawsuit against Chmielewski to stop him from calling them at their homes and private businesses with complaints.

If pursued, this would be the city's first recall election.

At Thursday's meeting, Chmielewski said, a chairman and vice chairman will be selected and signatures for the recall petition will be collected. A candidate to replace Falkenstein in a special election might be picked, he said.

"All I'm doing," Chmielewski said, "is starting the meeting and getting the ball rolling. The rest is up to the people."

Falkenstein, who was first elected in March 1985, has not returned telephone messages over the past few weeks.

A staunch supporter of the commissioner, Mimi Gewanter, said Falkenstein should not be voted out of office.

"Who is going to vote for his recall when he is so good for us?" asked Gewanter, 69, who lives on Vina del Mar, which is part of Falkenstein's district. "He is so good and straightforward. It's all jealousy. They are jealous that he and his family are successful."

Some residents, however, do not see it that way.

"Why did the City Commission agree to an event of that magnitude, knowing the strain it would cause on our city services and community?" 16-year resident Terri McKaig wrote to Falkenstein. "This fiasco was of obvious financial benefit for a few."

A recall is not easy. It could take until December or January and cost the city up to $8,000 to cover the special elections to remove Falkenstein and elect a replacement.

The city's general election, in which Falkenstein's seat is up, is in March.

Here is the way the recall would work:

Chmielewski needs the signatures of 100 registered voters within Falkenstein's district, which includes Pass-a-Grille and Vina Del Mar. He has 30 days from Thursday's meeting to collect them. The petition would be filed with the St. Pete Beach city clerk and the Pinellas County supervisor of elections, who would verify the signatures.

Falkenstein can file a defense of the recall. After that, Chmielewski must gather an additional 132 signatures from registered voters in the same district.

If the petition meets state laws governing municipal recall elections, a judge will set election dates.

_ Leanora Minai covers the beaches for the Times. She can be reached at 893-8406 or at minaisptimes.com by e-mail.

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