Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach featured in Mary Kay Andrews double murder mystery

This Tampa Bay cozy mystery lets us visit all our beloved St. Petersburg haunts.

Mary Kay Andrews has real Tampa Bay ties. She set one of her earliest books — Lickety Split — in St. Petersburg, and if you go to her beach house in Georgia, you’ll find Munch’s ketchup squeeze bottles on the table.

I loved her books even before I knew any of those things, and I love her more now for it. Whenever review copies of her books show up at work, I can’t wait to get home and read them.

Sunset Beach was no different. Except that, instead of being set in any of the other amazing Southern places, Andrews set it in Sunset Beach, in Treasure Island. Of course, she threw in a one night stand, murder, and another murder.

And Sunset Beach is a pretty cool little beach. It’s the new McMansions mixed with old beach cottages, and Andrews captures the vibe of the two worlds perfectly. 

Sunset Beach brings Andrews back to Tampa Bay, to the area of Treasure Island known as Sunset Beach. And while I’d love to give you all the plot, well, no. You’re gonna have to read it.

And read it you should, because Sunset Beach is Andrews in high form.

I will say this: You can revisit the Sandman Motel, the St. Petersburg Police Department, beach bars and a prominent St. Petersburg law firm if you read the book.

And, uh, it’s up to you to decide what’s real. But even if it’s totally fake — or even if it’s all real — it’s a fantastic read, and hey, who doesn’t love a beach read?

Even if there are dead bodies on the beach.

This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing

John Audubon Would Be Proud. And Hungry.

Show of hands: Who among us hasn’t laughed at tourists getting their food stolen by the seagulls? I know I’m guilty of laughing. To be fair, gulls often “steal” food only after the tourists who had been feeding them decide to stop feeding them because they selfishly want to eat, too. That’s not how seagulls work, y’all. Nevertheless, feeding seagulls is some sort of weird fascination for people visiting our St. Pete Beach for the first time. I don’t get it; don’t you people have pigeons and ducks and crows at home? Seagulls are just like these birds, only they crap a lot more and get far more aggressive. Pixar had it right in Finding Nemo: Rats with wings.

I have such disdain for the tourist/seagull dynamic that when my friend Andrea and I went to get ice cream at Paradise Sweets in Pass-A-Grille this afternoon, I snorted derisively (in my head, of course, because I am, above all, a lady) at the cartoon depicting a seagull stealing a lady’s ice cream cone and warning customers to be careful with their cones. What kind of idiot do you have to be, I wondered (again, in my head) to lose your ice cream cone to a seagull?

Karma, man. She’s a harsh bitch.

So Paradise Sweets serves Working Cow ice cream, which is this awesome local ice cream. Andrea turned me on to a new flavor combination: A half-scoop of pistachio and a half-scoop of salted caramel. In repayment, I offered to show her the secret sidewalk, so we started north along the beach, eating our cones and engrossed in our conversation.

When you live in Florida and spend any time at the beach at all, the sounds of gulls becomes white noise, much as I imagine the sounds of traffic must be in New York City. Which is why I totally didn’t realize a mean pack of predatory seagulls (but I repeat myself) were air-stalking me until one of the bastards swooped down and grabbed my entire cone as I was lifting it to my mouth.

Andrea proved no match for the clever gulls. Actually, they weren’t “clever” so much as “ballsy.”

Andrea, for her part, laughed at me, then got busy protecting her cone. She walked stooped over, trying desperately to stave off the gulls, who had tasted blood salted caramel ice cream and wanted more. As you can see from the picture, this was not what anyone would call an “optimal ice cream experience” for Andrea.

Of course, in the end, the gulls won. I should point out that Andrea is a master naturalist, a park ranger, and a member of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club. When the gulls finally bested her, she looked at them and yelled, “I WORK TO SAVE YOU!”

The gulls, for their part, remained unimpressed. Well, unimpressed with Andrea. They seemed pretty happy with the ice cream, though. I wouldn’t be shocked to read their review of Paradise Sweets on Yelp later.

The best part, however, came a few hundred feet later when a couple of women who, judging by their being in bikinis in 60-degree weather, were tourists, essentially accused us of feeding the gulls (who were still following us, despite Andrea’s cries of, “We don’t HAVE any more food! Go AWAY!” which is exactly what John Audubon said the first time sea gulls ate his ice cream. True story.)

Anyway, the moral of this story is, eat your ice cream inside. Or carry a BB gun when you walk with it on Pass-a-Grille Beach. (This post, I should not, is neither Andrea nor Audubon Society approved.) Either way, I leave you with this super-cute picture I took of Andrea right after the gulls outwitted her:

She is totally not posing, which is what makes this so adorable.
She is totally not posing, which is what makes this so adorable.


Hard Candy – Life on the South Side: No Complaints

I grew up in Clearwater. I only got to know the south end of Pinellas County when I moved here 11 years ago. Finding Gulfport was delightful, and I’ve belabored that point so often I hesitate to mention it again. Better still was discovering what life was like south of Tyrone Square Mall. Traffic clears out, the people smile more and, all told, it’s just a nicer place to live.
Y’all know me; I don’t like to complain. And I certainly have no complaints about the way Pinellas County treats us here on the south side.
If I had one overarching complaint about life south of Tyrone, which I clearly do not, it would be that living in a city in the south end of Pinellas County means you really understand the unfairness of the whole “separate but equal”thing, because –as so many discovered not that long ago – separate can never be equal. Now, I’m not one to accuse, but I have heard from a few people that Pinellas County appears to cater to Clearwater, Largo, and every resident north of St. Petersburg while quietly yet steadfastly ignoring services for those of us living an otherwise delightful existence down here on the south side. I’m glad I don’t have that complaint.
Oh, sure, the county –with no notification – decided to stop holding mobile chemical and electronic collections anywhere south of 22nd Avenue North. Even though one-third of the county’s taxpayers live in St. Petersburg (not to mention those of us in fringe cities), the county –without telling anyone, including staff at the cities impacted by this decision– decided we didn’t deserve the same services as its north side residents and stopped scheduling chemical and electronics collections anywhere in south Pinellas. After all, we can drive our hazardous waste to north St. Pete if we really want to obey laws saying we can’t throw our chemicals in the trash.
It appears the collections held in Gulfport didn’t meet an unstated goal of 500 participants, and the ones in south St. Pete weren’t up to snuff, either. Neither city knew they were falling short of the goals. You can read about how quickly Mayors Kriseman and Henderson have sent “Oh, hell no” letters elsewhere in this week’s paper. As for my opinion, I have, as I said, no complaints.
I certainly don’t believe Pinellas County acted unethically. Even though they didn’t tell either city they were falling short, or that they were about to pull the collections from areas historically underserved by the county, I’m sure they had their reasons. And it certainly is not my opinion they did anything wrong by letting both cities fail some test neither knew it was taking, even if, for the entirety of my tenure working at Pinellas County (which, funnily enough, included promoting the mobile collections), I never heard a peep about goals or participation.
Since I’m not complaining, I would be remiss, too, in drawing any conclusions about how services are being ceased only in and adjacent to the poorest minority communities in the county. I would also be totally, wholly, and completely wrong to talk about institutionalized racism, because we all know that no longer exists in Florida. It would also be wrong to suggest Pinellas County commissioners have little use for the residents on the south side unless it’s election time, or that since the much-maligned Commissioner Norm Roche is the only one who answers emails, he’s the only one who actually cares about all the voters. 
Unnecessary, too, would it be for me to suggest people start looking around at what other services our north Pinellas counterparts get, because I’m certain there aren’t any. And it would be downright excessive of me to suggest people email our geographically elected representatives Charlie Justice ( and Ken Welch ( and the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners chairperson, Karen Seel (, and call them on what is most certainly not a smack in the face to the cities on the south side as well as a shameful way of denying services offered to everyone but the poorest communities (who may or may not vote regularly in county elections). And of course I won’t suggest you read this column online to look for the links to email these leaders directly to express your outrage and disgust with their continued and sustained disdain for treating everyone in the south side like second-class citizens.
Because, as I said, I love life on the south side. I have no complaints.
Contact Cathy Salustri at

Hard Candy – CAVE-ing In

“All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” – George Orwell

So a curious thing happened this Saturday. I dropped by the sea oat planting behind the Sirata to get some photos of locals planting sea oats, and I didn’t see any locals. I mean, I saw St. Pete Beach employees and volunteers from all over, but no locals. That’s not to say no locals attended, just that I saw none. After all, it takes a lot of people to plant 10,000 sea oats, and not all of them could have been volunteers from J.P. Morgan.
But the paucity of beach residents started me thinking about the difference between the number of local sea oat planters and the number of people who attend city commission meetings and screech about the awful things the city’s trying to do to them. Over the past few years, those “awful” things included allowing the public on a public sidewalk in Pass-a-Grille, building a sidewalk and slowing traffic on a residential street, and building transient boating docks to draw more boaters (and their money) to St. Pete Beach.
Notably present at these meetings but painfully absent from Saturday’s event (and pretty much every other city event) was CAVE. Never heard of CAVE? The commissioners refer to them as “Citizens Against Virtually Everything”; that may sound disrespectful, but come to a few meetings and you’ll quickly understand why that’s most likely the nicest name for these folks. They’re not a formal group, although often they share the same attorney, and they’re not members of the weekly press or any group that’s bound by any ethical or legal standards, which an impartial observer can quickly ascertain.
No, CAVE is a loose group of loose cannons who are so angry at the city – and, if I had to guess, I’d say the world – that the commission could listen to them and then say, “Hey, we’re going to do exactly what you suggested” and CAVE would jump up and down and scream that the city was too narrowly interpreting their request.
The commission can’t win. Which is fine. I mean, they were the ones crazy enough to run. But, uh, the rest of us? We’re getting pretty damn tired of hearing this load of digested bull nutrition. No commission can be all evil. They must do something right. What’s more, the people who don’t believe the commission to be evil aren’t evil themselves for wanting to work with, not against, the city they love.
Is the commission perfect? No. As much as I like some of them, I’m pretty sure they all talk outside chamber walls, and I know that we (the Gabber) will never have the following we have in Gulfport. I hold no illusions about how much this column or our reporting to matters to them (somewhere between “hmmm” and “not at all”) but that doesn’t mean I have to hate them. I believe in the direction they’re pointing St. Pete Beach.
I’m glad, too, that they’re led by the city manager, because despite some of their individual intelligences, collectively they’re too clueless to fight their way out of a paper bag. That’s OK, because St. Pete Beach has a city manager form of government, not mayoral (be glad for that – have you read about St. Petersburg politics lately?). That’s OK, too, because I also happen to believe that the city manager is eminently qualified and a relatively moral man. If you compare him to other career bureaucrats, he actually shoots to damn near top of the morality charts.
Now, some of you may not agree with me, and I respect your opinion. As for your actions? Well, if you want respect for those, here’s what I respect:
I respect people who work from within to try and change things. I respect people who volunteer to join a city board. I respect people who attempt to learn about the workings of city hall without prejudice. I respect people who show up for sea oat plantings and beach cleanups and board meetings, and I respect people who choose to listen instead of beat their chest and comment like a curly-haired ape in heat.
I respect people who see the commissioners and city staff as real people who must use facts, not emotion and selfish whims, to make decisions for the good of the city, not themselves and their two friends. I respect the doers, not the screechers. I respect people who prefer to live in the sunshine of cooperation and not the CAVE of negativity.
Of course, you have have to make your own choices. But I’ll ask you to do one thing: the next time you hear someone who you suspect may be a card-carrying CAVE member, ask them to tell you about the last time they planted a sea oat.

Contact Cathy Salustri at

Hard Candy – The Beaches of Copenhagen

Hard Candy: The Beaches of Copenhagen

 It’s that time of year, where the sun breaks through the veil of pollen and grey clouds and we remember, hey, we live in paradise. Well, paradise with a traffic jam. As much as I loved living on the beach, I never loved the traffic this time of year.
 Of course, that’s a good problem to have – too many people crowding into your shops and restaurants. And, despite the hopefully fading lawsuits and chronic naysayers who hate everything the city tries to do, things are finally looking up on St. Pete Beach for the residents as well as the sand seekers and sun worshippers.
 Why do I say that? Look at the most recent election – the one the city didn’t hold. District Three Commissioner Jim Parent had no opponent yet again, and I’m fairly certain he’s likely to hold that post until he needs a nurse to wipe the spittle from his lower lip. District Four welcomed new commissioner Melinda Pletcher without so much as a peep from anyone. Clearly people are happy enough with the way government’s running on the sandbar.
 Given the community’s apparent satisfaction with its leadership, it makes no sense to me how people could not trust it when they suggest creating a couplet, a system of two one-way streets that would slow down traffic around Corey Avenue and allow for pedestrian and bicycle crossover between east and west Corey. The couplet has met with resistance from from some people, and I understand their concerns. They feel it would leave their businesses behind.
 Understanding their concerns doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re short-sighted and disagree. The couplet not only slows people down along what former planner Catherine Hartley called a “traffic sewer”; in doing so, it gives people a chance to see Corey and the shops there.
 The couplet would give St. Pete Beach a chance to show off its downtown and attract people to West Corey businesses (instead of letting them whiz right by them) but more than that, it allows for increased bike and pedestrian. That would likely appeal to our foreign visitors, many of whom don’t rely as heavily on cars (look at the size of their stomachs if you need proof they walk or bike a lot more than we do). Up and down the beach we see these visitors walking from the Publix to their hotels and restaurants. Despite that, we’ve yet to make our beach pedestrian-friendly. The couplet would change that and, in turn, make us even more appealing to European visitors.
 My friend and now world-traveler Shelly spent three years living under the lukewarm Denmark sun, and when I mentioned the couplet and the outcry against it, she shook her head, puzzled. Shelly, I should note, loves her Honda Element and isn’t in any danger of surrendering it anytime soon (especially after three years of bringing groceries and beer home on a bike in 20 degree weather), but she pointed out that Copenhagen… well, here, let me just quote her:  
 “Copenhagen made a very conscious decision, back in the 1960s when motorized traffic was taking over the city center, to make bikers and pedestrians a priority. The result? It’s a bitch to drive through, but who wants to? (Denmark also has a 180% tax on cars and some of the most expensive gas in Europe, but that’s another story.)
 “I think any prioritizing of bikers and pedestrians is a great thing, especially for visitors, European or otherwise. And for locals, what you get is a place where people will be slowly passing your business. Copenhagen has the longest pedestrian street in the world and let me tell you, rent is not cheap. Those businesses do quite well.”
 She makes some excellent points, although please, don’t tell her as those sorts of compliments just go straight to her head. I’ll be honest with you: I have no desire to travel to Copenhagen. It’s cold. The sun has poor job performance. Apparently you can only get Carlsberg beer and they don’t have stone crab claws. But I am not so xenophobic as to think we couldn’t learn a lot from countries that don’t suck up as much gas and oil as we do. I may not want to lounge on the beaches of Copenhagen, but I do think we can learn a lot from the people who do.

Contact Cathy Salustri at And, yes, Denmark really does have beaches. She didn’t make that part up.

St. Pete Beach Theatre Closed

Photo courtesy of Jay Ashworth
The Beach Theatre on Corey closed Friday. No, the bank didn’t take it and no, it ain’t for sale, thanks for asking. Progress Energy turned off the power and that was the final straw for an historic theatre caught in the middle of an ugly divorce where neither side would spend money to keep the theatre alive until the lawyers and the judges decided who owned it.

Once that happens, the owner (Mr. Michael France or his former beloved) will decide whether or not to continue as the owner. I believe that if Michael France retains ownership, he’ll reopen. If not? Well, I, along with plenty of others, would be interested in purchasing the crumbling grand dame of Corey.

Click here to read last year’s Hard Candy. I wrote it when Michael France announced the Beach had to make some changes.

Before that, I interviewed Michael France about the theatre. That article, though, ran November 24, 2009 in the Gabber, and we weren’t online in any real way just yet, so you can read it below:

********As printed in the November 24, 2009 Gabber Newspaper*******

The true mark of a great movie house is the buttery stuff in the middle of the popcorn. Most modern movie theatres allow customers to butter their own popcorn, but this robs the true movie theatre popcorn aficionado of the complete popcorn experience.

People seeking the complete popcorn experience—as well as a traditional moviegoing experience—know about The Beach Theatre, the last movie house of its kind in Pinellas County. Built 70 years ago—the same year that introduced the world to classics like Gone With the Wind, Wuthering Heights, and The Wizard of Oz—the Beach Theatre serves a small but dedicated group of moviegoers. This diverse group ranges from the die-hard Rocky Horror fan to the soccer mom bringing her kids to see Flash Gordon to a free Saturday morning show.
To say that the Beach Theatre has survived because they put butter in the middle of the popcorn bags is somewhat simplistic, however true. The Beach Theatre remains not only as a tribute to history but a testament that more isn’t always better. Sometimes better isn’t even better.
“Back in 1968, there were more movie theatres like this,” owner and screenwriter Michael France says of the theatres of his youth. France used to come to the Beach Theatre as a teenager. “I liked the fact that it was a single screen. That mattered to me, even when I was 15.”
Go into the theatre and you’ll find that it’s not exactly perfect. Things have aged since the theatre opened with Dust Be My Destiny 70 years ago. Seats break. The popcorn machine occasionally goes on the fritz, and the new projector was a long time coming to those who sat through focus problems show after show.
But that’s just the thing: people don’t seem to care about the seats or the projector or the times when they can’t get popcorn. No one complains that they only have one screen and no children’s playroom or a bevy of video games in the tiny lobby.
What does seem to matter, though, is that the theatre is dedicated to movies rather than the frills commonly associated with modern movieplexes. The Beach Theatre isn’t a movieplex; it’s a movie house.
France, who bought the Beach Theatre in spring of 2007, understands the importance of a movie house. As a screenwriter (he’s written The Punisher and Hulk as well as many other screenplays) he understands the movie business. Although he must, as a working screenwriter, want his films shown on as many screens as possible, he doesn’t want as many screens as possible at the movie house on Corey. Instead, he wants to keep  the theatre as it stands: a standalone single screen.
“I was really worried that nobody would buy it and it would get torn down and turned into a restaurant or bikini shop or something,” France said. Shortly after he purchased the theatre he started offering free kid’s shows on Saturday mornings.
“That was something I remember as a kid that seems to have gone away,” he says. Free kid shows mean that the theatre takes in little money, so France looks for sponsors so he can run movies. His requirements for movie to run as the free Saturday morning show are simple: they must appeal to kids and the film must be at least 10 years old. 
Although the Beach Theatre bills these shows as “kid” shows, the crowds are often anything but. When the theatre shows a Ray Harryhausen or Sinbad, it’s not uncommon to see grown-ups of all ages in the movie house.
France said owning the Beach Theatre was the realization of a dream.
Once he bought the theatre he realized there was more to his dream than he thought.
“I figured it would be fun to own a movie theatre. It was more work than I thought. I thought I’d be walking around and saying ‘Whee! This is the movie we’ll be running this week’,” he says, grinning. “Everything had to be fixed the year I bought it, from the plumbing to the sound system.”
Even so, France said he’s glad he owns the theatre. He’s got a small but passionate staff and a loyal following of patrons. Every show brings in different crowds. Just before Halloween, the theatre showed the original Night of the Living Dead. Among the theatergoers was Stacey Whitworth, a horror film junkie. To Whitworth, though, this movie was special. 
When her father first asked her mother out on a date, he took her to see Night of the Living Dead. Her mother, though, lacked her father’s enthusiasm for zombies and poor writing and got up and walked out of the theatre. Her father was forced to choose between watching the rest of this future classic and going after the love of his life. Whitworth remembers hearing this story over and over while she and her sister were growing up.
Every time she can catch a showing, she goes to see the film. Even though her father died several years ago, she can always remember him when she sits down in a less-than-perfect chair at the Beach Theatre and watches the zombies attack Barbra and Johnny.
It may not be the Norman Rockwell memory some families have, but it’s the kind of memory that makes the Beach Theatre special to so many people. It’s one of the many reasons France keeps the theatre open, despite the problems. It’s why he spends money on a new projector and tears up the lobby floor to fix the plumbing and lets kids watch movies for free on Saturday morning. 
It’s a type of history not found in textbooks or taught in the schools, but to many it’s more important. It’s their history, and every day when France opens the doors and turns on the projector, he’s keeping it alive.

It’s odd to see the theatre close not as a result of the economy but for more personal, horrible reasons. I wish the France family the best of luck and remind everyone out there are worse things in life than your favorite theatre closing, and if that’s as close as any of you get to a divorce this ugly, count your blessings.

As for the theatre itself? I choose to believe this isn’t the end for the Beach Theatre. It’s just a temporary stumble.

Hard Candy – To Serve and Protect

I really never thought I’d vote to get rid of the St. Pete Beach police department, but that’s what I’ll do this Tuesday when I head to the polls. It’s weird; I don’t even want to vote to get rid of our police department. Part of me feels like I need to apologize to the fine men and women who protect me, but more and more, I feel like it’s their police chief who owes them the apology. You see, while they all swore to serve and protect the community in which they work, their chief didn’t seem to have their back.

In February, 1998, Chief David Romine accepted the job as police chief in Winter Haven. He told the Lakeland Ledger he led by example. In July 2002, he resigned amid accusations from officers – some of whom were supervisors – that his management style contributed to low morale. Romine himself said he expected to hear he “wasn’t out enough” in the community.

History has a nasty way of repeating itself.

Look, the chief’s always been friendly to me, and there’s no question he does some fantastic work with kids. I wavered on whether or not to submit this column, because, as a person, I like and respect the Chief. I’m also aware that criticizing the police chief in a small town is really no way to win points, and I’m pretty sure if we end up keeping the police I’ve just made my life a living hell. But the fact remains that the officers patrolling our little strip of paradise never had a fighting chance, and yes, I blame the chief for that.

Let’s stop playing games about why they’re going away. It’s not money, although the city will save a lot by switching to the Sheriff. It’s not because we have a huge unfunded pension – $22 million – because that won’t go away by getting rid of the force. It’s not even because the police want to leave, because they wouldn’t if the city hadn’t changed the pension plan so that the officers had almost no hope of collecting a pension. The cops only want to leave because they know they’ll likely never see their pension; if we hadn’t changed the pension plan, they’d be fighting this like crazy. This isn’t my opinion; this is what many officers have told me. Some of them also tell me they blame the city manager, which I get, but before we all rush to cane Mike Bonfield, let’s remember his loyalty lies with the entire city while one would have hoped the police chief’s would lay with his men.

Like the Winter Haven department, we have what I would call “crippling morale” issues, and no, the chief isn’t out on the street nearly enough. He has failed to show us why we should spend such a massive chunk on our police department when the Sheriff will do just as well.

Also, we have drunk drivers, meth hookers who offer oral satisfaction for about $13, and a pill trade on west Corey that reminds me of a beachy version of “Drugstore Cowboy.” What has the chief done about that? Well, when I asked him about west Corey, he told me the police hadn’t done more because the city “hadn’t made it a priority” for him. I find that laughable. What kind of police officer needs to be told that we have a huge pill problem in Pinellas County? Two years ago we had one death per day resulting from prescription drug use; the county had a task force. But our chief chose inaction because no one told him to make it a priority.

As for the rest of it, I have no earthly idea. The department doesn’t exactly go out of its way to keep us informed, and by “us” I mean both the Gabber and the residents.

Let me also say, I cannot fathom that this would ever happen in Gulfport. Why? Chief Rob Vincent goes out of his way to maintain a force to be reckoned with. He brags on his team’s education and training. He’s active in the community, surveying residents and asking what they need. He finds money for the force through grants, and, although he doesn’t live in the city, it’s not uncommon to see him here on his days off, eating dinner at O’Maddy’s or dressed up like a pirate at a football game. His department publishes an annual report. He shows up at every city council meeting and, as such, can answer questions immediately should they arise. His every action distinguishes his department.

I realize Chief Romine has a lot more experience, but he likely would have served his men and women better by taking a page from Chief Vincent’s book. I’m not suggesting the St. Pete Beach police have lessor skills or training than Gulfport. Every officer on the beach that I’ve met is proud of their work and loves their community. Even the one who tickets me from time to time is nothing short of courteous and professional. But the chief – a chief who has his own retirement in the bag and apparently already collects a pension from south Florida – has done precious little to help his own force.

There’s nothing that can be done now. Our officers have served us well; of that, I have personal experience. I wish all of them the best, no matter how the vote turns out this coming Tuesday. I wish you all bright futures, long lives, and secure pensions.

And strong leadership.

Contact Cathy Salustri at Or, quite possibly, the county jail, depending on Tuesday’s vote.

Hard Candy: Common Sense Marvin

I can’t put you people down for a minute, can I? I leave for three weeks and common sense flies straight out the damn window.

OK, that may not be a fair accusation, in part because I’m not so narcissistic as to believe anyone does anything based on what I write, here or elsewhere (this includes notes left for El Cap around the house), and in part because, really, who are we kidding? Common sense rarely exists when decisions get made based on winning an election.

Except for St. Pete Beach Vice Mayor Marvin Shavlan. It pains me to say this, because the vice mayor drives me crazy: he tells me what he thinks I should write, behaving like a dog with a meaty, gristly bone when he wants to make sure I do the job he thinks I should. The problem? I often agree with him. More and more his use of common sense and good business senses impresses me. Perhaps that’s because he owns a business and although the city’s “business” deals with sewers and parks and Marvin’s business involves diamonds, it appears the fundamentals of spending money don’t change.

If you don’t follow St. Pete Beach with bated breath, as I do (it’s an illness, people, don’t judge me), you may not know exactly why I heap this dubious praise on our vice mayor. It’s simple: he treats the city like he does his own business, not a public fund with which he can do as he pleases.

Here’s St. Pete Beach’s dilemma: it needs x amount of dollars to keep the lights on, and that’s more than it collected in taxes last year. However, that amount could go down drastically if the voters approve changing from city police to the county Sheriff in November. Since the new budget year started Monday, the city couldn’t wait another two months to see what happened in the election and needed to budget for the “worst case scenario,” financially speaking.

Everyone on the commission – except Vice Mayor Shavlan – was all “hey, we’ll just raise taxes, it needed to be done anyway”, and while I generally agree that Floridians pay too few taxes, I liked Marvin’s proposal even better: take only what we need.

In a flash of common sense and fiscal responsibility so rarely seen when the upper class attains elected office, the vice mayor asked the commission to consider raising taxes only enough to stash enough money in the reserves to meet city goals. How then, you may wonder, would the city pay for the police department if the voters didn’t approve outsourcing?

Vice Mayor Shavlan suggested the city secure a loan in case that happened; if the voters approved outsourcing the police, the city could simply repay the loan early. He argued that the city planned to pay off a loan in the immediate future, so continuing those payments on a new loan wouldn’t change the game substantially. Add to that the growing public sentiment that the voters and several of the police themselves want to outsource the police, and his plan not to raise taxes quite so much made common and business sense.

My first task after returning from vacation? Watching this all replay on my computer the day after the commission met. I figured that the commission seized Marvin’s idea with both hands, but as I watched the meeting progress, I realized that not one of the commissioners even considered the idea. Meetings should allow for an exchange of ideas, right? Yeah, not so much. Marvin put forth an idea (one, he tells me, 85% of the people who contacted him loved), and the commission essentially ignored him.

That disappoints me. I understand that past commissions had kept the tax rate artificially low and that, as one resident said, if each commission had raised just a little, the city wouldn’t face the dire straits it does today. He’s right, but my point – and I believe Mavin’s – is that this is too much, and for the wrong reasons. This commission could have raised the tax rate a little, enough to get the ball rolling, and used the loan as a backup plan. Then, if the voters decided they wanted to keep the police, the city could have raised taxes to pay off the loan next year.

It almost makes too much sense for a politician to come up with this idea. I’m impressed.

With the rest of the commission? Them, not so much.

Contact Cathy Salustri at

Hard Candy: An Election Primer

By Cathy Salustri

You know what I’m sick of? Elections. It’s the most annoying time of the year. What bothers me the most – no one is who they seem to be, and while I know that all year, it’s markedly more intense during elections.

The other thing that bothers me more than I like to admit is that I’m not actually allowed to tell you who I think deserves your vote. Now, it’s not that I think my opinion matters – please believe me when I tell you you’re an idiot who lacks critical thinking skills if you do what I say without question – it’s that this time of year the, uh, jerk factor is kind of high, and I see the worst of it. Paper policy prohibits me from telling you what I think about the people running for office, so I have to sit here and stew and write nice columns about cooking or my cats or whatever.

You see, it is now and always has been the position of this paper that we do not endorse a candidate. My editor doesn’t believe it’s a newspaper’s job to tell people how to think. Instead we slog through December 1 through mid-March every year, trying to present the issues objectively, which we never do in the eyes of everyone, because invariably someone who has an agenda is upset that we don’t share it.

What does all this mean for you? Well, quite honestly, it’s just a whole lot of me whining, because trust me, making a living as a writer – even one who is making her living election after election covering issues like “SignGate 2012” and– is a pretty sweet deal. So forget everything I just said. I am lucky beyond measure. I just get frustrated.

However, if there is anything you can take away from this column it’s how you can make voting decisions. I can share with you a few things I find handy when it comes to how to figure out who’s best suited for the thankless job of “elected official.” I hope they help you out, too.

1. Don’t ask yes or no questions. At the last debate, someone asked the candidates if they had attended a car show. A yes or no answer doesn’t tell you anything. Ask why, and don’t stop until you know why. Think “Did you attend the car show?” as compared to “Why did you attend or not attend the car show?”

2. Let them talk. Salesmen will tell you the person who speaks first loses. This works when you’re trying to get a take on somebody, too. Just let the candidate talk, even if you disagree or know they’re wrong. Often they’ll answer questions you didn’t think to ask.

3. Figure out their lie. Everyone lies. I lie. Your mother lies. Every bi-pedal carbon based life form on this planet – and a few we haven’t discovered yet – lies. Get past that and figure out the magnitude of the lie and you’ll be well-served. Is your candidate lying about whether or not they’re a natural blonde or why they really went to jail in Mexico?

4. Look at the company they keep. Look, I know you should judge a person based on their actions, and so do you. But elections ask you to judge a person based on little other than lip service. Is the guy challenging the incumbent going to be any better at balancing the budget? Who knows? I don’t. You don’t. But look at who the candidate calls “friend.” Like attracts like, and if you don’t like the people who endorse a candidate, it’s possible you may not like the candidate, either.

5. You really can judge a book by its cover. Go meet your candidate. Shake their hand. Tell them what bugs you about them and ask them the tough questions. You know that feeling you get in your gut when they answer? Go with it. It’s your first impression and, sadly, I’ve found it’s usually dead-on accurate, whether I want it to be or not.

6. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Rumors are easily proved and disproved, and facts and statistics are easily distorted, but odds are people aren’t making things up entirely. For example: Someone who dislikes me may tell you I lean towards a certain candidate, and there may be a glimmer of truth because yes, I have an opinion on who’s best for the city. But they won’t ever say I base my opinions on something an alien told me, because let’s face it, aliens don’t vote. My point? Don’t believe rumors, but don’t assume they’re totally false. The truth is somewhere in between.

No matter who you think deserves your vote this March 13, please go vote. Local elections are the only real power you have over government. Make your voice heard.

Contact Cathy at

Hard Candy: Market Madness

 The St. Pete Beach commission can’t catch a break. Not that I care about them – those lunatics knew what they were in for when they threw their hat in the ring – but I do empathize with the sense of frustration that comes with the “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situations that abound on our sandbar.

 Last week at the commission meeting Mayor Steve McFarlin expressed concern about the Corey Market. No, not that Corey Market – the other Corey Market. The one not on Corey anymore. See, the original Corey Market – the one that used to be on Corey – now takes place in Horan Park. Think of it as the “Horan Corey Market.” You with me so far? Good. The new Corey Market – the one that doesn’t actually go by the name “Corey Sunday Market” – takes place on Corey. Think of that one as the “Corey Corey Market.”

 Why the two markets? I have my suspicions that people couldn’t play nicely with one another, but that’s unsubstantiated. All I know for sure is that the city now has two Corey Markets (I know they have slightly different names, but who do they think they’re kidding?) and the mayor has a bee in his bonnet about one of them.

 I think Steve’s a decent enough guy. We disagree on things – really, what the hell was he thinking when he reversed the vote on red light cameras? – but I believe he’s sincere in his desire to serve St. Pete Beach.

 Sometimes misguided, but sincere. He’s also empathetic – mostly. He empathized with Best Buddies when code enforcement told them to take down the inflatable dog. Best Buddies loves him now. The other ninety-nine places who didn’t get a Mayoral Puppy Pardon when code enforcement came around? They don’t understand why one business gets special treatment.

 See? Damned if you do.

 Then, there’s the issue of the couplet, or this wacky idea that we can slow down traffic on Gulf Boulevard, make it safer for residents and tourists, and get people to notice the businesses instead of flying by at 40 miles per hour – if we make a portion of the street one way. As a resident who must regularly navigate the Dog Leg From Hell (not to be confused with the inflatable puppy; see above), I love the idea. The businesses on Corey? Not so much, initially. Then the mayor spent an afternoon on Corey – an area he admitted he initially didn’t think too much of – and explained the plan and heard concerns.

 What strikes me as odd is that, after spending some time on Corey, it seems that Mayor Steve has an issue with the Horan Corey Market – the one that left Corey for greener pastures. Last week the mayor seemed pretty damn down on one of the best things I’ve seen on the beach in while, calling the Suntan-sponsored market a “flea market” and insisting that they should pay the city more money than they already do. He did not suggest the city collect more money from other markets, festivals and bazaars on other pieces of public property.

 Now, I haven’t visited the Wagon Wheel in quite some time, but I fail to see the resemblance. The Horan Corey Market is a huge improvement over last year’s Corey Market. I’m sorry, guys, I love your shops and understand why you want the market on Corey, but the Horan Corey market rocks. There’s more space, better parking, and a wider variety of vendors. For what it’s worth, when I finish at the Horan Corey Market, I invariably stroll over to the Corey Corey Market, and I see plenty other people doing the same thing. I would even say that the Horan Corey Market drives more business to the Corey Corey Market than the market saw last year when it was the only game in town.

 Clearly, Corey merchants do not agree. It seems some businesses think the city could treat them better. Which is funny, because it seems to me that the crux of the lawsuits that have rained down on the commission’s head like a plague of frogs is that the city treats businesses too well. One group sues because they say the city panders to businesses and another group thinks the city needs to help businesses more. I can point to several recent decisions that have helped local businesses, and I can point to just as many that have helped residents. In some places that’s called “trying to strike a balance;” here, the city’s damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

 We are, sadly, not known for sitting down and working out our differences. We are, however, known for suing. It’s like we’re the city of brotherly hate.

 Look, I’m the first person to point out the faults, like the glut of annoying signs, empty lots and buildings and full-combat-crosswalks. I choose to live here, however, because, while there’s change I’d like to see, think there’s still some paradise left out here. That means I accept dueling markets, resorts, and adult entertainment venues.

 I would also like to point out that the people who come here to visit the markets, beach or shops don’t give a baboon’s behind who hates who, who has an agenda, and how much anyone pays for the privilege of selling them artisan cheese or locally-harvested honey. They care that we’re a neat place to visit, we have nifty things, and, oh, yes, we have a kick-ass beach. They visit, which is our end goal, right?

 So maybe, just maybe, we can all pretend to like each other for a while and get something done? I know it’s a wacky thought, this “trying to settle things maturely, without causing harm to other people.”

 But given all the other stuff we’ve tried, I think it’s crazy enough that it just might work.

Contact Cathy Salustri at