Oldsmar resident questions council’s motivations for approving zipline park

An Oldsmar resident, allegedly speaking on behalf of a local business owner, questioned the motivations of the City Council in approving the Zipline Aerial Adventure Park at Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve.

Oldsmar resident Wendy maltinos speaks on behalf of an Oldsmar business owner during the City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

Oldsmar resident Wendy Maltinos speaks, allegedly on behalf of an Oldsmar business owner, about the zipline park during the City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

On a night when City of Oldsmar officials were recognized for their dedication to making the community a better place to live, work and play, one resident called the integrity of the city’s leaders into question over what has suddenly become a controversial project—the incoming zipline aerial adventure park at the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve.

During the Citizens Open Forum portion of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Wendy Maltinos read a letter allegedly written by a local business owner that questioned why the council members allowed Empower Adventures to build the zipline park at the preserve with little notification of the public and few apparent benefits for the city.

Starting out by saying she was “given something to read for you guys” by a person “who is a friend of mine,” Maltinos proceeded to outline a list of what the author considered to be questionable actions by the council when it came to the approval of the park.

Wendy Maltinos.

Wendy Maltinos.

“Was the council aware that the citizens of Sand Key rejected Empower’s attempt at putting up a zipline in 2011?” Maltinos read. “Based on all the news articles I read, it appears Mr. Pathik learned his lesson on how to get a zipline done.”

“Which leads to my next point: Was the matter brought to the Leisure Services Board for review prior to voting on it? If not, what was the rush, and why was that board not allowed to have an opinion?”

After stating that the city attorney informed the board members that the council was “legally able to make the zoning changes without their approval,” Maltinos got to the section of the letter that directly questioned the council’s motivation for approving the zipline park.

“Nowhere in this process does it appear that the citizens of Oldsmar were truly able to express their support, or opposition, and it just appears, and it may not have been your intentions, but it appears this was shuffled through as quietly as possible,” she said.

“Which leads to a question: How much were Mayor (Doug) Bevis, City Manager (Bruce) Haddock and the council members paid off to put this through?”

City of Oldsmar and Empower Adventures officials pose during the groundbreaking ceremony for the city's zipline aerial adventure park at Mobbly Bayou Preserve on Thursday, March 17, 2017.

City of Oldsmar and Empower Adventures officials pose during the groundbreaking ceremony for the city’s zipline park at Mobbly Bayou Preserve on Thursday, March 17, 2017.

The statement elicited immediate reactions from both Bevis and Haddock, but Maltinos pressed on, outlining the terms of what she called “ a sweetheart deal” for the park’s developer that includes leasing 20 acres of preserve property for $1.00 a year for 10 years, and the city receiving a lower percentage of the gross profits than other municipalities were granted in similar deals.

“The city’s agreement calls for Oldsmar to get 5 percent of the gross revenue, while Daytona Beach was able to obtain a 10 percent base that goes as high as 20 percent based on break points,” Maltinos said. “So when you combine the two, you have to ask, what happened here?”

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

Following the recital of the letter, the council members quickly responded.

“The statement was making accusations of us taking money, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Mayor Bevis said.

“If you think that happened, go to the state attorney’s or the sheriff’s office,” Haddock said, to which Maltinos replied,” I’m sure we might.”

After Maltinos returned to her seat, the council members continued the discussion.

“I have been on this council since 1970,” Jerry Beverland added. “And these councils cannot be bought off. We might make bad decisions, but we’ll never be bought off.”

Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee.

Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee.

Council member Gabby McGee said she believed the accusations were made from “an emotional position,” and she explained why the council voted to approve the zipline project under the agreed upon terms.

“We didn’t do it to make the money from it, we did it to help bring visibility to the city,” she said.

“The prior planning sessions decided that the zipline supported the brand we’re trying to build for the city around ecotourism, and so we made that a priority.”

Vice-Mayor Eric Seidel, who is known for making thoughtful, measured comments, did not hold back about his feelings for the author of the letter.

City Council member Eric Seidel.

Oldsmar Vice-Mayor Eric Seidel.

“I think anybody who doesn’t have the conviction, or quite frankly, not much  validity, to what they’re saying, and won’t come here and say that, is a coward,” he said.

“And I would challenge him to come and do anything more to make that statement public.”

“I think that’s outrageous,” he added. “Because where I come from, that’s called slander.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Bevis addressed the subject once again.

“It just makes me sick to my stomach to think that a resident here, who has a business here, feels that not only that this council would act in that manner, but also feels that they would get retribution from this council and this city of they came forward publicly and spoke,” he said during his Council Comments. “And that could not be further from the truth.”

“I take a lot of pride in what I do…and I’m offended at the comments that were made tonight. Unfounded comments.”

Afterwards, the mayor shared his thoughts on the issue with Oldsmar Connect.

Workers prepare Oldsmar's zipline park for its grand opening on Friday, June 3.

Workers prepare Oldsmar’s zipline park for its grand opening on Friday, June 3.

“There were some serious allegations made last night, and I don’t want to speak out of turn before I have all my facts straight,” Bevis said by phone on Wednesday, adding he and city officials are working to determine the source behind the allegations.

When asked if he wished the council had done things differently when it came to the zipline project, he said that could be the case on many decisions the council makes.

“Could we have done things a little bit better, and maybe gotten a little bit more? Sure,” he said. “But I don’t know that we would do it any differently, to be honest. You elect us to make decisions that benefit the majority of the people, and ecotourism is a priority in the city.”

“Do I think we tried to sneak something by in the dark of night? Absolutely not,” he added. “I don’t think anyone tried to keep it a secret. Why would we? We’re proud of it. I think it’s a great thing for the city, and I’m looking forward to the opening ceremony on June 3rd.”

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