Fort Pierce developer donating kayak launch lambasts a divided city commission over naming process
FORT PIERCE – A luxury villa developer lost his cool with half of a divided four-member City Commission July 8 after its members failed to come to a consensus on naming his donated kayak launch after renowned neonatal activist Sylvie Kramer Marceau.
The city accepted name submissions between June 4 and June 21 for the kayak launch nearing completion at the foot of the Citrus Avenue railroad overpass that developer Rick Reed agreed to donate to the city in exchange for a city right of way needed to complete his 12 unit, three-story luxury villa project. The city’s Parks Advisory Committee subsequently vetted and approved the two responses, one from Mr. Reed suggesting the late director of the Healthy Start Coalition who died in 2011 after a lengthy battle with lymphoma, and the other from Fort Pierce resident Susan Hamburger suggesting the name Indian River Citrus Kayak Launch.
Mayor Linda Hudson jump-started the controversial discussion by asking City Manager Nick Mimms if the Commission should designate the small kayak launch as a city park, whose answer eventually gave fodder to Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson’s insistence on including another late submission.
“It is now a recreational amenity as constructed,” Mr. Mimms answered. “This additional acreage would only help us with our Comprehensive Plan requirements and our strategic goals and objectives, so it is strongly recommended.”
For the mayor’s part, she insisted the kayak launch was insufficient to honor the late activist who founded the Kids Connected By Design organization in 2000 to consolidate outreach programs for pregnant women and early childhood initiatives.
“She did some wonderful things for the city on infant mortality and taking healthy mothers and taking care of children,” she said. “While it is a nice thought by the submitter – and I think I understand why he submitted this name – to me it doesn’t go with a kayak launch. She needs to have a building named after her, a pediatric unit or something, because of all the wonderful things she did for infant mortality.”
Mayor Hudson offered her own suggestion for naming the park after its location in one of the city’s historical neighborhoods.
“I would like to propose that we consider River’s Edge Kayak Launch, which is the historic district,” she said. “We could put a plaque at this kayak launch in honor of Sylvie too. I’d be very happy with that.”
Commissioner Reginald Sessions, however, was loathe to name the launch after its geographical characteristics and preferred to honor Ms. Kramer Marceau instead.
“Sylvie’s contribution to Fort Pierce and the county for that matter as a whole, certainly warrants something like this where eyes are going to be watching in that park over there,” he said. “There’ll be a lot of young people out there, one of the most beautiful areas, and it just goes hand-in-hand with the individual herself.”
Commissioner Rufus Alexander agreed, acknowledging he and the activist – who’d lost her second son in 1968 to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – became fast friends after she discovered he refused to charge a local family for their child’s funeral services at his mortuary.
“You’re going to think of the children, you’re going to think of maybe some that she’s the reason they’re living today,” he said. “Every inch of the way I’m going to fight for her name to be over that kayak park because she gave life to this community.”
While admitting the city had two “very good options” for naming the kayak launch, Commissioner Johnson wanted to know if the Parks Advisory Committee had received a nomination from the Fort Pierce Kiwanis Club since one of its members had approached him about the possibility. When Public Works Director Mike Reals emphasized that the Kiwanis submission came in too late, the commissioner balked at the idea of continuing without the Board hearing the details of that proposition.
“So basically we didn’t really get into the details of the proposal because they talked about voting as a body to do maintenance and their annual events and whatever it is they do,” Commissioner Johnson said.
Parks Advisory Committee Chairwoman Charlene Adair then responded, insisting that the two initial respondents had complied with the city’s criteria.
“Specifically you’re asking for their contribution that they were suggesting: I believe that they mentioned in this proposal to budget $500 a year for park maintenance,” she said. “However, we did say that since we required Mr. Reed, who submitted this first proposal to follow our rules and guidelines that you had approved, that we should ask everyone else to also follow those rules.”
Commissioner Johnson, however, repeatedly talked about the Kiwanis member who’d approached him and insisted on taking that proposal into consideration.
“I’m also uncomfortable saying I’m going to keep two and go,” he said. “It’s almost like taking job applications and saying alright, these are my last two and I’m good… because you could never know what kind of opportunities are out there.”
Commissioner Sessions, however, balked at the idea of extending the process further.
“So, with that being said, we’ve set the parameters and the rules in place, and the individuals have given the applications,” he emphasized. “Why do you feel this warrants going beyond what we’ve already set in terms of the regulation of how we’re going to name this park?”
“Because we haven’t named it a park yet,” Commissioner Johnson responded. “There’s momentum that’s gained through that process when there’s a public hearing and designating a park and then looking at our Comp Plan and adding that square footage… I feel like the community doesn’t have the momentum when you invest or we provide initiatives.”
Commissioner Alexander then questioned City Manager Nick Mimms on the actual value of the right-of-way Fort Pierce had exchanged for the kayak park since the Mr. Reed had previously stated his firm had spent more than $500,000 on the project. Mr. Mimms believes the city is getting the better end of the deal.
“I believe that little sliver of a parcel, maybe it was between $20,000 and $50,000 in valuation, but the actual contribution to the City of Fort Pierce from the developer in that area is much greater than the trade off that we anticipated,” he responded. “I believe the City of Fort Pierce has greatly benefited by this relationship, and the developer has done a very good job in bringing something to Fort Pierce that we have not had before.”
Commissioner Alexander then decried what he viewed as unfairness to Mr. Reed by some commissioners on city right of way that was simply “a runoff to the river from the Citrus Overpass.”
“The city has a knack of taking advantage of individuals, and I think it needs to come to an end,” he exclaimed. “Now we want to trade off to… people want to issue $500 a year, whereas these individuals have spent $500,000. It’s not fair, and I’m through with it.”
When Ms. Adair insisted the city make a decision on one of the two submissions or issue another formal request for name submissions, Commissioner Johnson repeated his previous arguments, followed up by Commissioner Sessions’ calls for naming the facility after Ms. Kramer Marceau.
“I can’t think of a better person, along with the fact that again, this is what the developer’s wishes are in terms of what they have contributed,” he exclaimed. “And I certainly don’t want us to go and open this back up for more consideration considering we’ve already made a deadline and set the parameters.”
Mayor Hudson then called an impasse due to the absence of Commissioner Thomas Perona, who could have served as the swing vote, although no formal votes are taken during a Conference Agenda.
“Mr. Mimms, we’re two to two, so we can’t give you any direction,” she said.
The city manager insisted he needed no further direction.
“We received direction at a previous City Commission meeting, and we’re on schedule,” he affirmed. “The schedule is for July 15 to bring this to the City Commission for you all to make a decision based upon information already received.”
Mr. Reed, who had been close friends with Ms. Kramer Marceau and been at her side when she died, was the only member of the public to speak after the discussion. When Mayor Hudson attempted to redirect him to address the Board as a whole after he spoke directly to Commissioner Johnson, the developer lost his cool and began to yell.
“I am speaking to the whole Commission – you listen as a whole Commission,” he said. “This city didn’t ask for that park: We came up with the design of that park; we paid for that park. Then you set the criteria. I did everything I was supposed to do. You set the criteria for us to do with the Parks Department, and then you had the nerve to try to negate your own rules.”
The developer then began to direct his tirade directly toward Mayor Hudson and Commissioner Johnson, insisting the former didn’t have the right to use the activist’s name to achieve her own purposes.
“Both of you two should be ashamed of yourselves,” he screamed. “You don’t like me, and that’s why you did what you did. You’re corrupt, you’re pathetic and you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
When Mayor Hudson reprimanded him for using profanity during his outburst, he swore at her and left the building.
“Shut up,” he shrieked. “F--- you! I’m sick of it, sick of y’all.”
City officials did not respond to a Hometown News request by deadline as to whether Mr. Reed would be allowed to address the Commission in a public forum in the future after his outburst.