By Cathy Salustri
I’m a Tornado: I graduated from Clearwater High, class of ’90. I wasn’t a cheerleader, although I did letter on the Academic Team, which, as we all know, is practically the same thing.
Nevertheless, I attended football games. I loved yelling from the stands and cheering on the football players. I especially loved it when we would chant at the other team, “We’ve got spirit, yes we do… we’ve got spirit, how about YOU?” and the opposing team would chant it back at us.
Spirit’s a funny word. I thought that meant a general feeling or undercurrent, but at the Gulfport council meeting Tuesday I realized that it actually means playing nice with the majority.
Councilman David Hastings suggested Al and Cindy Davis, who recently battled with the EPA over water quality issues, for the Spirit of Gulfport award. The Davis’, with the help of their attorney, forced the EPA to admit that it hadn’t been doing what it was supposed to in regards to water quality and agree to come up with a national plan to do so.
Yup, Al and Cindy Davis made a federal agency admit its negligence. I’m not sure I understand the ruling enough yet to debate its finer points, but it seems to me that getting the feds to admit a muck up is, at the very least, noteworthy. So did Councilmembers Hastings and Jennifer Salmon. Vice-Mayor Michele King, however, called the Davis’ a “disruptive force” and Councilman Sam Henderson said he couldn’t support the award, either. The mayor said he didn’t want to bestow the award- which, as far as I can tell, is a Microsoft Word certificate in a cheap frame awarded without discretion or criteria – if there wasn’t a consensus.
That disgusted me. Whether council likes it or not, The Davis’ are some of the most involved members of our community. They pay attention, attend meetings, and speak their mind. They tried to donate an RV to the city. They rescue imperiled rabbits and find them homes. Whether you agree with their tactics or not, you can’t deny that they’re in the trenches. They visit local restaurants, spend time on the water, and own rental property.
I disagree with them about certain aspects of the Clam Bayou restoration, and I’ve said here I don’t care for the way Mr. Davis speaks to council. Additionally, I don’t think Mr. Davis likes me much – he waved me off after the meeting tonight- or believes this paper does an adequate job, but I cannot, in good conscience, discount his value as a Gulfportian because he doesn’t like me.
Being on city council means being the bigger person and trying to work with all the people you represent, not just the ones who are nice to you. Is that fair? No. Who said it was supposed to be? If you don’t like it, don’t run, because despite what we would all like to believe about Gulfport, Al Davis isn’t the only one who doesn’t smile and make nice at city council. Other people get upset. Other people say mean things. Government meetings aren’t intended to be a lovefest where we all hold hands in a circle and sing Kum Ba Yah; they’re a place where citizens and government come together to work on issues.
I was a nerd in high school. The cheerleaders made fun of me and the jocks had no clue I existed. But at those football games, when we were all hooting and hollering for our team, we were united. Come Monday morning, yes, I’d be the geeky one on the Academic Team and they were the in crowd, but on Friday nights we were all on the same team. And, really, what good would high school – or anything- be if we were all the beautiful people? We would never learn to be any better than we already are.
Clearly the people offended by Mr. Davis’ behavior don’t remember their high school experiences, or they were the beautiful ones who never had any social unpleasantness. Not so for most of us, though. And what did we do? We learned to adapt. We tried to see the other person’s point of view. We grew up understanding that it isn’t personal when people aren’t nice to us; it’s more about their needs and frustrations than our inadequacies, real or perceived.
Like in high school, everyone in a community doesn’t always get along. They can treat each other with indifference and sometimes cruelty. But they’re all in it together.
I’m not defending the way people address council; it’s no secret I think there needs to be more decorum in the meetings. I see Mr. Davis’ bad side, yes. But a bad side doesn’t make him a bad person. It makes him human. Emotional, passionate, occasionally ill-tempered, but human no different than any of us. A voting, tax paying, thinking, bunny-rescuing, human who disagrees but supports the city. He just doesn’t always agree with the mainstream opinion. And he’s a citizen who deserves a council that may not agree with him but understands he, too, is rooting for the same team. He’s just doing it in his own way.
Which, actually, is what I thought Gulfport was all about.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com, or comment on this column on Cathy Salustri’s Hard Candy Facebook page.