St. Pete Beach residents call for investigation into possible misappropriation of Gulf Blvd. project funds

Some neighbors in St. Pete Beach are calling for an investigation after learning a multi-million dollar project ran out of money. Now they want to know how it all got spent.

The information came to light during a budget meeting, after a city employee revealed the money may have been misspent.

Concerned neighbors said they were alarmed by the revelations.

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"Where did that money go?" said BJ Lawson, just one of many neighbors asking that question. "We cannot be wasting money or even worse: losing it to fraud or shenanigans."

The project is moving existing overhead electrical and communication lines underground along Gulf Boulevard. It was paid for with money from Pinellas County’s "Pennies for Pinellas."

It’s being done in three phases. During a city budget hearing, the community learned there isn’t enough money for phase 3 and it could cost taxpayers another $6 million to finish.

Public Works Director Mike Clarke spoke frankly to commissioners. He said the county awarded St. Pete Beach about $12.5 million dollars for the project, which he said should have been enough.

"We’re sitting here with two-thirds of a project that was fully funded and doable from the beginning. It’s a very sad tale, but that’s the bottom line. There was an incredible bit of mismanagement over the past couple of years," said Clarke.

Clarke told commissioners the project costs increased by $10 million under the previous city manager.

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"A number of payments were not accounted for properly. The commission never saw those," said Clarke.

Last fall, the former city manager resigned while under an investigation into allegations of a toxic work environment.

"This isn’t something that just affects St. Pete beach taxpayers, this was ‘Pennies for Pinellas’ sales tax money that affects all Pinellas County residents," said Lawson.

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During the budget meeting, Mayor Adrian Petrila expressed concern. Petrila was among the city commissioners who had initially called for the former city manager’s resignation in 2023. 

Regarding the possible misappropriation of funds for the project, the mayor told FOX 13: "Those are serious allegations that warrant further looking into. I’ll be speaking with the city manager and the city attorney to discuss next steps."

Lawson says he and other neighbors want to see a full investigation into how the money was spent.

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"As residents and taxpayers, we don’t know what happened, but we need to know what happened. We are entitled to answers," said Lawson.

FOX 13 reached out to Pinellas County to see whether there was an investigation or audit into how the county dollars were expended on the project.