Pinecrest council members voted Tuesday to take away Mayor Cindy Lerner’s control of the village’s email newsletter after she wrote an item criticizing the council for a vote she disagreed with.
In January, the council voted 3-2 to reject a deal that would have brought a restaurant to Pinecrest Gardens, with Lerner on the losing side. Neighbors complained that the restaurant proposed was too big and would bring in too much noise. Council members Joseph Corradino, Bob Ross and Jeff Cutler had voted against the restaurant agreement, while Lerner and council member James McDonald dissenting.
Lerner gave her take on the decision in a Feb. 3 issue of “Pinecrest E-News.”
“It is my opinion that, as long as we have a Village Council willing to allow the immediate neighbors to dictate terms for any agreement with a restaurant, we will never be able to attract another restaurateur to come near us,” she wrote. “This issue is now toxic; no reputable restaurateur would want to deal with what the last proposer did.”
Ross called the mayor’s article a “recent manifestation” of the “furious spinning that goes on” within the council. Corradino said it contributes to “internal damage that is being done.”
“We can communicate in these chairs,” Corradino said. “I don’t find it appropriate to take it outside of this room and splash it on an email where we’re hating on each other. ... We had a vote on a highly controversial issue and the side that loses the vote writes an inflammatory article in a village publication. It doesn’t help us move forward. We can’t be yelling at veterans, killing dog-park people ,and calling out our neighbors who have legitimate concerns. We shouldn’t be writing crazy emails.”
But Lerner said everything she wrote is 100 percent factual.
“You said the village is being held hostage by its own citizens. I don’t think that’s factual,” Corradino said.
Lerner said the council is “trying to censor the mayor from ever having direct communication with constituents.”
Lerner created the “Pinecrest E-news” concept five years ago and has authored it since.
Under a new policy approved Tuesday, the village’s communications manager, Michelle Hammontree-Garcia, will write the newsletter. The mayor and other council members can contribute articles, but those pieces will be labeled as the writer’s opinion. The policy was approved 4-1 with Lerner dissenting.
Hammontree-Garcia recently joined the village after holding a similar position with the village of Sweetwater. Before that, she was a freelance writer who often wrote about Pinecrest for the Miami Herald. She is a graduate of the journalism program at Florida International University.
COMMUNITY CENTER UPDATE
In other news, the council heard a presentation from Bermello Ajamil & Partners, an architectural and engineering company, that the village previously hired to develop a master plan for the Pinecrest Community Center. The company brought the council a three-phase proposal.
The first phase would be a 7,000-square-foot addition north of the existing building. This would be a $2.1 million project and would take 20 months. The second phase would consist of of interior re-purposing and remodeling. It would take 18 months and $1.2 million. There are two options for the final phase: a $2.5 million, 10,000-square-foot gym or a $1 million, 4,500-square-foot multipurpose meeting room west of the center.
The project would add indoor concessions, a senior area and resource center, an expanded fitness room, and shaded outdoor play and seating areas.
The council took no immediate action on the proposal.
The village is also moving forward with plans for red-light cameras. The village manager will work to negotiate an agreement with REDFLEX Traffic Systems, seeking terms similar to those of the City of Clearwater.
This would include a six-month pilot program to study the effect of red-light cameras on Pinecrest intersections. If the mean number of red-light running violations is reduced by at least 15 percent, the pilot would be considered successful and the village would continue with a two-and-a-half-year term.