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St. Pete Beach begins 2024 with commission vacancy

Mark Parker



St. Pete Beach City Commissioners will vote on the controversial Sirata Beach Resort's proposed redevelopment Jan. 10. The District 3 seat remains vacant. Photo: Facebook.

One St. Pete Beach City Commission seat remains vacant as officials prepare to vote on a massive, controversial redevelopment project.

Vice Mayor and District 3 representative Ward Friszolowski, and commissioners Mark Grill, Chris Graus and Chris Marone announced their intention to leave office last month rather than submit new, more stringent financial disclosure forms.

A last-minute, novel plan to stagger resignations worked as the commission recently welcomed three new members. Friszolowski, however, decided to postpone resigning until the Dec. 30 deadline.

Friszolowski said he preferred Betty Rzewnicki – who is running unopposed in a March special election – to take his seat rather than appointing someone to serve a two-month term.

“Our main concern was having some stability with our city government, and we needed at least three (commissioners) … to have a quorum to be able to move forward,” Friszolowski said. “We’ve now achieved that.”

St. Pete Beach officials recently appointed three new members, with Mayor Adrian Petrila participating via Zoom. Screengrab.

While the city government can function with three commissioners and Petrila, it remains unclear if a fourth will vote on the Sirata Beach Resort redevelopment project. Rzewnicki, a local educator, still awaits her employer’s approval to serve on the dais.

Rzewnicki told city officials that she hopes to have an answer by Jan. 8. While City Clerk Amber LaRowe confirmed that the District 3 seat remains vacant Tuesday, she anticipates an appointment at the Jan. 9 commission meeting.

City officials will hold a much-anticipated vote on the Sirata’s redevelopment at a special meeting Jan. 10. Over 100 residents spoke against the project at a planning meeting in November.

If approved, Kentucky-based hotel management company Columbia Sussex would update the Sirata and build a 290-key JW Mariott to its north and a 130-room Hampton Inn to its south. Concerns center on the project’s potential stormwater, traffic and pedestrian safety issues.

A rendering of the proposed Sirata redevelopment. Screengrab.

Multiple residents said Dec. 28 meeting that city officials should fill the vacancy before voting on the redevelopment. Mike Sequin said he was among the eight candidates who attended City Hall expecting to interview for the role.

“I’m just confused with the whole process,” Sequin said. “Here we are, yet you’re going to send us away and see what happens potentially on the 9th because you guys really want to stick with Betty (Rzewnicki).”

Friszolowski apologized to the applicants and said he expects Rzewnicki to receive approval. Friszolowski also hopes the candidates will continue participating in the process as a contingency.

Municipal elected officials previously filed a Form 1 financial disclosure listing assets and liabilities over $10,000, income sources and property holdings. However, it did not require them to specify dollar amounts and other details.

State legislation, effective Jan. 1, now requires anyone in an elected position to file a Form 6 and disclose their net worth and dollar amounts of assets, debts and income over $1,000. Business owners must name customers and clients responsible for over 10% of generated revenue.

Friszolowski was the first to announce his impending resignation, with Rzewnicki as a previously established successor. The remaining three commissioners followed, leaving Mayor Adrian Petrila as the commission’s sole returning member.

St. Pete Beach officials scrambled to mitigate the mass exodus by appointing new representatives in a series of emergency meetings that began Dec. 18. Karen Mariott, Nick Filtz and Richard Lorenzen now represent Districts 1, 2, and 4, respectively.

However, uncertainty surrounding Rzewnicki’s availability has left District 3 without representation. St. Pete Beach also lacks a vice mayor with Friszolowski’s departure.

Petrila, on vacation and participating in the meetings via Zoom, has chastised commissioners for waiting until the year’s end to resign. He and several residents noted the appointees have not attended meetings or read thousands of pages of information related to the Sirata project.

If Rzewnicki cannot serve on the commission, voters will decide all four seats in the August municipal election. “I know there’s an appearance that you could take and go, ‘Wow, this is a closed-door thing,” said Lorenzen.

“I know it appears that way, but please have confidence in the system,” he added. “I think it’s going to work out in the long run.”







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