Catering meals for the homeless in front of the vice mayor’s house and accusing the city attorney of not knowing the law was too much for Mayor Suzanne Atwell to take.
She took the unusual step of opening a City Commission meeting with a statement criticizing the person behind those stunts, downtown resident and radio host Phil Grande.
“It’s time to respond to the vitriolic emails,” said Atwell Monday. “It has gone beyond reasonable standards.”
Grande began July 11 by paying for bus rides for the homeless to eat and hang out in front of Vice Mayor Terry Turner’s house in the upscale Cherokee Park neighborhood.
On July 12, he chartered a bus and catered a meal from Sonny’s Bar-B-Q for about 40 homeless people.
Again, on July 15, he provided bus fare and food for homeless to visit Turner’s neighborhood.
Grande opposes the organized homeless feedings outside his condo at Selby Five Points Park. For a while, Turner shared that view.
But Turner said he began to feel the measures the city was taking to keep the homeless out of the park were becoming overkill.
That angered Grande, who accused Turner of caving to political pressure.
The radio host has turned on his own pressure ever since.
“Terry is a fine public servant who should not be subject to violations of his privacy,” said Atwell.
“What they don’t like is the truth of it,” Grande responded, referring to his stance on homeless issues. “Nobody’s ever had the guts to stand up to them. I came up with a solution that they don’t like ... ”
Grande had offered to buy a North Sarasota property for $573,000 and turn it into a combination homeless shelter/gathering place, then sell it back to the city for $1.
Turner and other city officials have not pursued that offer. They said it was not well defined.
“It’s very defined,” said Grande. “I gave them a $573,000 building to have one place for (homeless) feedings, but they won’t do it because it’s too political, and they’re just worried about being re-elected.”
Grande was also perturbed when City Attorney Bob Fournier said the problem at Selby Five Points Park needed to be better documented. Fournier explained that any further measures to limit feedings there would likely be challenged in court, so a paper trail would be needed to defend any lawsuit against the city.
Grande saw that as failing to heed all of the complaints the city has already received from downtown residents about the park activities.
Said Atwell: “(Fournier) has done a brilliant job. To accuse him of being coached by others and not knowing the law is frankly ridiculous and has no place in civil discourse.”
Grande, however, does not appear to be backing down. He has vowed to continue sending the homeless to Turner’s neighborhood each Friday, and he says he soon will be sending them to St. Armands Circle and Bird Key, where both Atwell and City Manager Bob Bartolotta live.
As for the criticism that he’s using the homeless as pawns to further his political point, Grande said: “I’m not using them. They’re getting the best meal of their lives. At least I have a relationship with them.”
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].