MADEIRA BEACH — Despite a brief foray into post-election bitterness Tuesday, the City Commission appears ready to approve a contract that will allow the 39th annual John's Pass Seafood Festival to be held in October.
The decision is expected to be made at the commission's April 9 regular meeting.
Sonny Flynn, president of the John's Pass Village Association, and the city administration have been negotiating for months over how costs associated with the festival would be paid for.
She said the festival "lost a $65,000 grant" because for months the commission delayed approving the 2018 festival over concerns that it would cost taxpayer dollars.
At the time, Mayor Maggi Black and Commissioners Deby Weinstein and John Douthirt wanted the city to be reimbursed for all "hard costs" (fire protection and sanitation services) as well as parking fees lost because of vendor booths traditionally set up in the John's Pass Village parking lot.
A potential repeat of that contract impasse pushed festival organizers to consider another location, confirming Tuesday they have been in ongoing talks with Treasure Island about moving the festival to that city if an agreement could not be reached with Madeira Beach.
"Our merchants don't want to leave. We love our city," Flynn assured the commission.
Last fall, just days before the opening of the three-day, 2018 festival, Flynn issued a news release announcing that because of the attitude of city officials there would be no more.
City officials were quickly inundated with phone calls and emails from irate residents and business owners.
That started months of negotiations. In February, a tentative contract appeared to have support from both sides.
The proposed contract calls for the city to retain control of festival attendee parking that could generate more than $20,000 in revenues.
The city would also waive all hard costs except law enforcement fees up to an $8,500 cap for the festival organizers.
In exchange, the festival would give the city "top billing" in a co-sponsorship arrangement.
That agreement was briefly in danger Tuesday when Weinstein rejected the final terms and insisted the festival organizers should pay all hard costs.
"I am tired of any organization holding the city as a hostage," Weinstein said.
Weinstein, who was not on the March ballot, complained that the John's Pass Village Association endorsed two candidates who were running against incumbents.
"This was a very inappropriate statement for any organization that operates in Madeira Beach," she said, prompting a protest from one of those candidates.
"Wow, that is certainly conduct unbecoming a city official,'' said newly elected Commissioner Doug Andrews. "You just took offense that she supported other candidates. I cannot believe you just said that out loud at a public meeting."
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Both Flynn and Andrews defended the village association's right to make a political endorsement.
Douthirt had earlier complained that his opponent, Steve Kochick, joined Andrews in warning voters that the festival would move out of the city if the balance of power on the commissioner did not change.
The heated exchange continued with calls for the city attorney to intercede and the mayor finally telling the commission, "That's enough!"
At that point, City Manager Jonathan Evens tried to head off the argument, explaining that he had brokered an agreement he described as a trade-off.
"We wanted both parties to get something from deal," Evans said.
Vice Mayor Nancy Hodges urged the commission to "bring this to an end right now" and approve the agreement.
"If you are all okay, we can all shake hands and go forward," Black said.
And when Evans asked if there was a consensus to vote on the Seafood Festival contract in April, the commission agreed.