Year one Update...from 2006

Robin Saenger

Friends and supporters,

I can’t believe it’s been one year since you helped me get elected to the Tarpon Springs City Commission.  I’d like to share with you some of the highlights and learning experiences of my first year as your public servant.

At first my new life seemed to be completely different and separate from my life as an artist, but the two lives are merging beautifully.  Besides the obvious difference of people stopping me to discuss ordinances, zoning, and potholes while I’m walking the dogs or at Publix choosing avocadoes, my life has changed in a multitude of ways.

Two weeks after I was sworn in, I found myself at Legislative Action Day in Tallahassee, talking to our representatives and senators trying to bring the concerns of Tarpon Springs to them and dollars back to our city.  I attended a three-day Smart Code workshop in Atlanta, a “Walkable Communities” seminar in West Palm Beach, an IEMO (institute for newly elected municipal officials), the John Daly Community Water Leadership Program through USF, National League of Cities Leadership Training Institute on Creating Sustainable Communities for the 21st Century, and the Florida League of Cities Annual Conference. My education continues.  I just returned from Tallahassee for my second Legislative Action day. Next month, I will be attending the advanced IEMO.

There are both direct and indirect connections between what I learn and what I can bring to the city.  For example, because of the Smart Code workshop, I’m focused on making our city codes more sensible and friendly to the environment, our residents, and our growing city.

I asked our city manager to invite Dan Burden from the Walkable Communities workshop to come to Tarpon Springs for a two-day open-invitation participatory seminar.  A group of us walked together through Tarpon Springs, looking at our city.  A month later, Dan came back with a plan and many innovative and usable ideas on how to make our community more sustainable and walkable.

Many of the benefits from these workshops are subtler, but they all increase my knowledge, effectiveness, and ability to facilitate constructive change.

In my campaign, you know I talked a lot about a sustainable and walkable community, smart growth, developing a long term vision, and recognizing Tarpon Springs as a cultural and artistic center.  Here are just a few of the ways where I feel I made a difference:

I asked the city for occupational license amnesty to encourage residents working at home to get licenses so we would have a more complete picture of our true business assets.  This information is invaluable not just to us, but also helpful in attracting businesses which look at such statistics to evaluate how vital our community truly is. 

The ESOL English literacy program of the Pinellas County Adult Education was going to be moved to Oldsmar, a devastating loss to our town!  This program serves 150 legal immigrants from 22 countries, teaching them the language and citizenship skills they need to become full-participating community members.  I successfully kept the program in town by obtaining funding for another year.

I’m proud to have pushed hard for a new tree ordinance that more truly reflects our most valuable infrastructure—trees.  This ordinance will benefit our community for years to come by helping to restore and protect our tree canopy.  You can look forward to more tree plantings and stricter protection for our precious trees.

Last year the Shepherd Center holiday benefit was cancelled, leaving our most vulnerable residents at risk.  I was inspired to bring it back.  The Stone Soup Project raised thousands of dollars and became part of a city-wide event called Small Town, Big Doings.  Look for it this November, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of our Tarpon Springs Train Depot opening.

Here are some of the things I’m currently working on:

  • a new public art ordinance for Tarpon Springs
  • A year of pairing Artists and the Written Word, a children’s program at the Tarpon Springs Library, beginning in August, 2006
  • Long-term funding to keep the ESOL program here indefinitely

Thanks for your support, which has enabled me to take on these tasks!  I could not have made these changes without you – and the support of my fellow commissioners. 

Have you got a hot issue?  Call or e-mail me, join me for a cup of coffee, and I’ll be happy to talk about what’s important to you.  Better communication between the commission and our residents is important to me.