People Places, Inc. in downtown New Port Richey got a few political visitors on Thursday night, part of a trend of political events being hosted at the space. People Places is owned by local developer Frank Starkey. Starkey has become involved in developing the Orange Lake Residences property on Orange Circle downtown.
On Thursday it was Incumbent New Port Richey Mayor Rob Marlowe and his challenger, Ed Beckman, a 30-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office that retired as a Colonel in 2015. The candidates were invited by Rock the Boat Productions for a Town Hall style debate. Rock the Boat is a local marketing and event planning agency run by Lia Gallegos, Kira and Kacey Atkinson.
As a reminder, the election is scheduled for Tuesday, April 11 2017. Here is an article with more information on the candidates and the voting process.
In addition to questions being asked and answered for what Rock the Boat said was a live audience over more than 50 people at People Places, SoLocal Pasco creator Greg Smithwick was on hand to create a Facebook Live Stream of the event, which had around 25 people watching. That is something of a milestone for New Port Richey politics in going online.
The moderator of the event was Dionne Blaesing, P.A., a local and well respected attorney. Blaesing asked each of the candidates a series of questions from the audience and from the online stream. Below is a summary of some of the more striking questions and answers that reveal more about the platforms of the candidates. Words in quotation marks below are direct quotes from the candidates. Also below I will embed the entire livestream if you would like to listen to the candidates yourself.
Questions (Click on each to see that section/answer):
Watch the entire live streamed event here.
Marlowe: Mayor Marlowe said he believes the garden district to the north of downtown is his “ideal vision for the City of New Port Richey.” He said that these are not high value homes and yet people have made something of them and it is “truly beautiful.”
Beckman: “I like Grand Boulevard. Those areas off of Grand there are a lot of older homes. There is a mixed use of rental duplexes and triplexes that if given the right plan to bring those up to par aesthetically it can blend into our communities along those lines. What sets us apart also is that we’re not a cookie cutter community. That’s what makes the uniqueness of our city.”
Marlowe: “I think the neighborhoods on the West side of US19 are the ones in the most critical need of attention now. We have a large number of low value homes including mobile homes [there]. Every time you get a high tide some of those neighborhoods flood. We have–for lack of a better term–“slumlords” that rent some very, very low quality homes… I think it is critically important that we go after and correct those.” Marlowe went on to say that he believes a lot of the downtown areas will take care of themselves. “With 30 new businesses and new jobs coming to downtown some people are starting to look at properties around there and saying, ‘Hey, I can really fix this up.'”
Beckman: My neighborhood–obviously it’s a transitional neighborhood. The area around Gulf High School. It needs a lot of help and we have to figure out a way to where we can start attracting families and those that want to set roots here. And how do you do a better job of selling the community? I think the schools need to be there. If they want to go East to another community because of the schools then we need to figure out a way. Beckman went on to say that he thinks the City needs to find a way to work with the District School Board of Pasco County to improve the grades at those schools.
Marlowe: “I think there’s several of them. I think [our recent efforts have really improved] most of the historic district. Along U.S.19 and Main Street, that has just started to pick up. One of the things that we have been working on the last 18 months is the Main Street Landing project that we’ve been trying to get back on the road.”
“The other area of critical concern is the so-called Marine District which is just East of where Mr. Beckman lives where the old HCA hospital was. We are working aggressively to convince the Veterans Administration that that is a great site for their new hospital. If we are successful in getting the VA hospital in place then most of the occupancy issues will take care of themselves there.” Marlowe went on to reference the City’s ability to keep businesses there by using the example of Applicant Insight which was kept in the Marine District by City Economic Director Mario Iezzoni and other City staff efforts.
Beckman: “Obviously the downtown area. Also the Marine District because if the Veterans Administration doesn’t pan out then we’re back to square one. Both tech type industry and technology–something we can bring to market and get jobs there. Also, the US19 corridor. We have a lot of vacant areas–it’s vacant now…”
Beckman went on to call for “bringing back” a grant funded program for City residents to help fix up the exteriors of their homes. Marlowe countered that the grant program is already in effect and is currently being funded. That statement is true: a grant program for low-income residents is in place up to a matching $5,000.
Marlowe: I think we have a good start. The new urban agriculture ordinance [that just passed in November] helps. [Things like] the Loquat Festival (on Saturday, April 8th at Frances Avenue Park) is a step in the right direction. We have a citywide cleanup that we do every 6 months or so. We have volunteers who go out and help folks who can’t carry the junk to the dumpsters. [Old] paint in particular and other things like that and get rid of them. We also have shredding to help out with that.”
Beckman: “I saw a lot of things about reclaimed water a couple of years ago. I know there were some concerns about Orange Lake and we were able to test that and help maintain a healthy body of water. I think it’s important to maintain the health of the water and the river and those are some of the higher taxpayers in our community.”
“I know [Kacey and Kira Atkinson] are very active with the eco things [sic] that go on in the community. We try to do our best with that and I know my kids are very much into the recycling–it’s kind of a generational thing but we all have our obligation to do our part.”
Beckman: Beckman said that there are currently mutual aid agreements in place for law enforcement agencies across the County. Beckman said that the police should be given the ability to go into these areas that are County owned and make arrests. Beckman went on to say that “when you’re elected you have a responsibility to pick up the phone and call the County Commissioners and say ‘we need help with this.'”
Marlowe: “We have been working with the County on this problem for months. Just being able to send the police in doesn’t solve the problem. The vast majority of the buildings just need to be razed. We have slumlords in there that will rent to anyone with cash and they will rent short term. That is where the vast majority of crime in New Port Richey is coming from.”
“It’s not just a law enforcement issue. It needs to be dealt with. Likewise, the criminal elements that are hanging out in the woods–be it FDOT property or others. That needs to be dealt with, and in fact we have been making contact with those agencies to go in there and help clean it up.”
Marlowe: “Where necessary we need to annex the problem enclaves. We need to work with the County and Port Richey to even out the boundary lines. Right now the line is a crazy quilt that bounces up and down as you go around the perimeter. I don’t know how a police officer would know whether he is in the city or not. We need to even some of that out. That would also help us with some of the drainage issues on the other side of US19. We have people living in the City that have flooding problems due to drainage issues that are in the County. We need to see what we can do to make that a little more sensible.”
As a note, Mayor Marlowe wrote a blog specifically on this issue last week that ran on NewsPortRichey.
Beckman: “We do have issues with crime but we also have issues with mental illness and we need to find solutions. We need to educate our community about crime because crime is about opportunity.”
“There are some problems and some people that are just down on their luck that live in those areas. I sit on the mental health board for Baycare. I know about mental health being a [former] law enforcement officer. We have to steer them in the right directions. We don’t arrest ourselves out of problems.”
“We had a pill mill epidemic back a few years ago and we knew that crimes happen in a geographical area and we knew that property crimes were crazy because people were stealing to feed a habit. So we need to find a way to help. I’m not for just taking over a section of County without first correcting it and getting it corrected. But let’s work with the County collaboratively and work with the Sheriff and get it fixed.”
Beckman: Beckman said he thinks “it’s kind of unique to grow produce and how do you capitalize on that and have a permitted farmers type market.” “…A chef would be a perfect [to have] a perimeter of food stations and a chef in the middle to put on a cooking class.”
“I think having that type of an Ag business gives us potential to do a lot of different things. What I envision is to be the best cheerleader that I can be for the City. To be that person that is out there to market and to bring those roots in here. At the same time–bring in the business. We have attracted businesses. There are some that are hurting right now. I talked to one business owner who was on Missouri [and is now at] the art gallery. She went across to–she just doesn’t have the foot traffic. Coordinating with the theater board and getting different types of acts down here–go out to dinner and have a few drinks afterwards. We have to look at a whole [lot] of ideas.”
Marlowe: “Convincing my colleagues to spend the money necessary to gut Sims Park and rebuild it from scratch [was a major challenge]. On some days it went from 4 or 5 people hanging out there and sometimes not particularly nice people to hundreds of families there every day. Just every day. It is attracting families. I talked to a couple just a couple of weeks ago before our free movie night and they had never seen anything like this. They had no idea that the City could provide this type of opportunity to have inexpensive fun. And we’re doing it. We signed off on some things on Tuesday for the Restore Act funds. Finally we’ll get some money (from the BP oil spill in the Gulf) to muck out Orange Lake and get it turned into a live body of water. We’re going to do some upgrades to Orange Lake.”
“Last, [I want to] continue to work on bringing in new businesses. We’ve had over 30 new businesses come in. That’s a net, some have come and gone. We’re continuing to work on the Hacienda…”
Beckman: “A decision like that I would really want to have the input of the police chief and his staff along with the City Manager. I know there are communities that have decriminalized it. I think we owe it to the Chief and his staff to get their input before any decisions are made on that. Medical marijuana is the law and where we’re going to put it is going to be with the legislature. Personally if we can dispense it at Walgreens and CVS that’s the most correct way to do it but obviously it’s not according to the legislature. Where is the best location that accessible for those residents that need it and am I for putting it in an industrial area? No. But in the middle of a neighborhood? No. Those are the challenges.”
Marlowe: “I’ve had that discussion with the Chief of Police that City of NPR does not go out looking to bust kids with marijuana in the back of their cars. We’ve got–going after small amount marijuana users–the bigger issues of drug abuse. The City had a multi-month investigation of a property off of Old Main Street and the Police did the job. They got complaints and it didn’t seem like they were doing anything. When they busted in they found that they had something on the order of 500 hypodermic needles. Those are the types of drug use that we need to go after. Not marijuana users–that’s a waste of resources.”
NewsPortRichey: As an editorial note, I have sat in on Pasco Alliance Against Substance Abuse (ASAP) meetings and have heard numerous times from the Pasco Sheriff on decriminalization or legalization of marijuana and they are firmly against the practice. I have written in the past criticizing the Sheriff’s Office and other lawn enforcement agencies for spreading misinformation on the topic and lacking data or backing up their arguments as to why this would be detrimental. In August 2016, the Sheriff’s Office released a report detailing why medical marijuana legalization would be harmful. My research into that report showed that it was blatantly and purposefully misleading, including their use of copy/pasted slides from other presentations that had been previously debunked.
Marlowe: Chickens should not be a problem. Roosters are very much a problem. My daughter has chickens. So long as they’re not irritating the neighbors with Roosters announcing the crack of dawn I have no problem.
Beckman: I’m in favor.
Marlowe: Absolutely not. Their front yard of their house is in the City limits and the backyard. “If my husband has a heart attack I am going to drag him to the front yard and call 911.”
Beckman: I am not in favor of any services being contracted out. That’s my opinion but if it’s up to the residents I would support that but I live in the City because my wife and I like the idea of having our own service.
NewsPortRichey: As an editorial note, Pasco County Fire Rescue already responds to all 911 medical calls within City limits because the NPR Fire Department does not currently operate ambulances. That said, New Port Richey Firefighters do respond to all medical calls within city limits as paramedics, though they cannot transport patients, and do frequently have a faster response time than County crews.
Beckman: “I would like to see something done with the Hacienda is something that would set us apart. Wouldn’t it be great to convince the owners of the Columbia [in Tampa and Sand Key] to put another Columbia restaurant in that building? Those are the types of things that we need to start networking to get. A bed and breakfast, a boutique, a banquet hall–there’s a lot of space in there. It’s a beautiful building. I would really like to see some kind of a vintage restaurant at least in one part of it. Maybe even a mixed use…”
“It’s always great to get someone else to pay for it but if we can get grants or other funding…”
On reversing the current crime trend.
Beckman: “I want to sit down with [Police Chief] Bogart and talk about his resources and how they’re deployed and look at mutual aid agreements. I know we have a detective is on a drug task force that the Sheriff oversees.” Beckman went on to say he wants to improve the relationship between the public and the police department to “get the best ‘bang for the buck.'”
Marlowe: Marlowe said that he wants to fund the police department more and institute neighborhood watch groups.
Marlowe: “A performance bond was put in place. We are going to work aggressively with our developers to ensure that they have the wherewithal to complete the project. Hopefully soon we have a rezoning coming up on Orange Lake with the developer that will work on the smaller plot as a proof on concept to see if he can get them up and built. We do not need another Main Street Landing.”
Beckman: “Mr. McGurn made out like a bandit. That’s god’s honest truth. No offense to any of the Council here because they weren’t sitting then. We’ve had leadership in place that were big fans of ‘flip this house’ and that really backfired on us. I’m really excited to see it completed. You have to look at–the project that Mr. Marlowe is referring to with Mr. Starkey. The City lost their behind on that. What we paid for it and no offense to Mr. Starkey, he got a great deal. So we really need to make sure that before we have anything like that there’s really solid marketing analysis that there will be need.”
Full Live Stream of Event