Sail Honeymoon supporters turned out in droves to Thursday's city commission meeting, hoping to convince city officials to make a policy exception for beloved owner Glen Steinke.
Despite Steinke's plea to "do what’s right, do what’s right for me, right for the taxpayers and right for the community," the exception they all hoped for wasn't approved.
An estimated 60 supporters filled the seats inside City Hall, overflowing into the aisle and front foyer. They wore printed stickers that read "I Support Glen + Sail Honeymoon Dunedin Causeway," and many spoke of their affection for the longtime owner of the iconic kayak rental business.
They all asked them to skip the competitive bidding process, known as the RFP (request for proposal) process, which is scheduled the end of his expiring three-year, $1,000-a-month license agreement.
Supporters argued that Steinke should not be swept away from his 20-year business, which they fear will happen if the property is opened up to outside bidders. After decades of year-to-year and month-to-month agreements, they believe that he deserves to renegotiate a longterm contract without competition, an exception given to no other business in the city.
City Attorney Tom Trask said that the RFP process was Steinke's avenue for getting the longterm contract he desires.
Some city officials said overriding the legal agreement for one business and not another would be a misuse of their power, and that if any other parties bid on the Causeway concession during the RFP process, they could still give preference to the current vendor.
Resident Brooke Mitchell, a college student, was among the first to speak during public comment. She said she's been sailing off of the Dunedin Causeway since she was 8 years old.
"I think it's interesting you're talking about the preference," Mitchell told commissioners. "He's asking for preference for his own business. He built that … he deserves his own business."
About 10 people got up to speak, all of whom expressed their support and admiration for Steinke.
Dunedin's purchasing policy requires that all businesses go through an RFP process in order to use public land for private profit, a standard practice for government entities.
City Manager Rob DiSpirito pointed to several private businesses operating on city land that were required to go through the RFP process, including Dunedin Stirling Links, the Dunedin Green Market and the Dunedin Fish Market, and 11 other local and county governments that use an RFP process. It is a process meant to reduce subjectivity and increase transparency, DiSpirito said.
Commissioner Ron Barnette said all the positive comments sounded like the "makings of a strong RFP that's going to give you a longterm contract."
He expressed concern for the "innuendos that the RFP process is a way to get rid of (Steinke)."
"I would think of this as strengthening your position," Barnette said to Steinke, who was in the audience. Instead, Barnette called the RFP process an opportunity to "give the poor guy the lengthy contract that he deserves and should have been given a long time ago."
After an hour of comments and deliberation, Steinke supporters left upset by the commission's 3-2 vote.
Commissioners Heather Gracy, who accepted a $500 campaign contribution from Sail Honeymoon, and Julie Scales, who has many consituents on the Causeway, were the dissenting votes.
Gracy said she believed that the RFP process is prudent for protecting the public's land, but "now is the wrong time to use it."
As the crowd filed out of City Hall, disappointed supporters and friends of Steinke issued words of encouragement.
"It really is not defeat," a man said to Steinke.
Another man offered to help.
"I've done some RFP stuff," he said.
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