Are petition gatherers in Madeira Beach playing dirty tricks?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

“If they don’t read it before they sign it, I don’t know what to say.”

Those are the ominous words of octogenarian Sam Baker, one of the leaders of Madeira Beach United, the organization determined to block two multi-million dollar redevelopments planned for this beach community.

Of course, Baker is right: if a city resident does not read the fine print of MBU’s petition, the fault lies with the resident, even if, as Baker conceded to Josh Rojas of Bay News 9, the legal language in the petition can be “a little complicated.”

If a resident doesn’t understand the petition, Baker insists volunteers from Madeira Beach United answer all questions honestly.

Or do they?

SaintPetersBlog was unsolicitedly contacted on Friday by one resident (who will remain anonymous because she fears retribution from Madeira Beach United) who says a volunteer with MBU not only did not answer her questions, but was blatantly misogynistic.

“I live in Madeira Beach and … Steve Miller dropped by my house for a ‘chat.’ I listened, asked a few questions, countered his answers,” said this longtime resident.

“When I declined to sign his petition, he said, ‘Well, I’d like to speak to your husband.’ ”

“I told him the conversation was over. He proceeded to call the city manager and the commission corrupt. I left him standing in the driveway.”

This story sounds eerily familiar to another incident, this one reported by Bay News 9’s Rojas.

Madeira Beach resident Jim Durda said a volunteer tried talking his wife into signing the petition and she refused.

“The petition’s completely different than what they were selling when they came to the door,” said Durda. “They were selling an 11 story building and that’s not true. They’re against the whole project.”

Madeira Beach city leaders say they are receiving angry calls from residents who say that Madeira Beach United’s volunteers are misleading. Some examples of MBU’s dirty petition gathering tricks include suggestions that:

— “If you sign this petition we can stop them from building 20 story tall buildings.”

— “If you don’t sign the petition the population is going to double from the 4,500 people that live here now to over 9,000 because of these new developments.”

— “If you sign this petition, there won’t be any traffic increases that will make living here impossible.”

— “By signing the petition there will be a vote on future rezoning and development applications.”

All of these are either lies or scare tactics — or both.

What is forgotten here is that in November of 2014, the Board of Commissioners, led by then-Vice Mayor Elaine Poe, unanimously adopted Ordinance 2014-08, with the hope that it would help lead to just the type of developments that have been proposed today. At the public hearing for the ordinance, not a single resident appeared to speak against the ordinance.

Today, a group of people who apparently could have cared less back in 2014, many of whom are not even eligible to vote in Madeira Beach, want to play Monday-morning quarterback and substitute their judgement for that of the elected commissioners.

City leaders say they want the dirty tricks to stop.

“If you feel like you’ve signed one of these petitions and you’ve been misled, you can come sign an affidavit to have your name removed from these petitions,” said Mayor Travis Palladeno.

City officials explain anyone wanting their signature removed should contact the City Clerk. They can either send an email to aservedio@madeirabeach.gov, or drop off a written request at City Hall addressed to the City Clerk.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.