By DYLAN HART
USFSP Student Reporter
GULFPORT – In a City Council election where the incumbents maintain the city is doing just fine, Chrisan Herrod is the most vocal critic.
And that is precisely why she wants to join the council.
“I strongly feel that the incumbents do not listen to your input,” she said at a Jan. 29 candidate forum. “I am running because the incumbents spend your money to study problems rather than solve them.”
Herrod, 64, has lived in Gulfport for almost seven years. She says she has “seen the growth of the city” but also has noticed a lot of problems go unaddressed.
She said she decided to run against restaurateur Byron E. Chalfont and incumbent Christine Brown in the March 12 election because she and several neighbors were frustrated with various issues piling up in the city and the council’s lack of communication.
“I’m also running because (Brown) is unresponsive,” Herrod said. “The council person does not communicate with the citizens of Gulfport and does not, in fact, factor in our opinions about decisions that are made.”
Herrod grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia and joined the Army at 18. After briefly serving as an enlisted member, she worked with the Women’s Army Corps at Pennsylvania State University and was promoted to second lieutenant upon graduation.
She eventually transferred to the Air Force Reserve as an intelligence officer and retired from the military in 2001 as a major.
Since then, Herrod has had all sorts of jobs. She worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and various cyber security companies, most recently Denver-based Optiv Security until July 2018.
She also taught cyber security around the country, and she received a doctorate in education from Northcentral University in July 2018.
Most of her time now consists of campaigning, volunteering for the city’s Multipurpose Senior Center Foundation and the Gulfport Merchants Chamber and getting her new ice cream shop, the Crazy Cow Creamery, up and running.
“My partner and I both love Gulfport, and we felt that what’s been lacking in Gulfport is a family-oriented place to go,” she said.
But as a politician, a major issue for Herrod is zoning in Gulfport. She even acknowledges that people who object to her plans to set up the Crazy Cow on Beach Boulevard may have a point.
“The building is compliant,” she said. “But had I been on City Council at the time, I would have taken a look at the architecture of the building. To prevent that sort of thing from happening again, I think we need to put more effort into our zoning and zoning laws.”
Zoning has been an issue during this election, especially regarding the preservation of Gulfport’s “small, old-town Florida” feel. To forward those efforts, Herrod wants to create a city character document that sets guidelines on how Gulfport should grow.
Tied to zoning laws is her frustration with Gulfport’s city ordinances, which she says are outdated and far too numerous to realistically follow and enforce. She hopes to review the ordinances with a citizen-driven committee recommended by the City Council.
“We have more ordinances in this town than St. Pete has ordinances,” she said. “And it takes at least a week to go through the ordinances. There’s three pages on what you can and can’t do with your dog.”
She presents fiscal responsibility as a key part of her platform, expressing disappointment with how Gulfport’s budget has been managed.
“The taxpayer dollars are not being used in a prioritized manner,” she said. “We’re spending money on useless, stupid projects. That’s City Council’s fault – the city manager proposes something and the City Council just agrees with it. We’ve got to be smarter than that.”
She says that the council’s attempts to seek grants and new sources of income should come second to managing the existing budget.
Herrod also expresses frustration about the cost of what she deems “useless studies” on how to fund projects like the construction of a new Senior Center or the BCYC Breakwater Linear Park development, both of which she declares she will oppose.
Herrod also says that climate resiliency is a serious concern. She is worried about how flooding will affect the coastal town and wants to find a way to implement solar on city buildings.
She also wants to establish a plan for short-term rentals like Airbnb, an issue that provoked debate at the candidate forum. She says that the ordinances of cities like Orlando, which set taxation rules for short-term rental owners, are a good example of how to handle the problem.
But even with an extensive platform, how can a relative newcomer like Herrod defeat an incumbent like Brown, who has been on the council for six years?
“From a political strategy point of view, I’ve done about as much as I can,” Herrod said. “In terms of advertising my brand, I’ve met with people and I’ve talked about my goals and strategies to move Gulfport forward in a deliberate manner with a lot of oversight for taxpayer dollars, and I’ve advertised in the Gabber,” the community weekly.
Herrod hopes to take her political career beyond Gulfport. She looks up to fellow Gulfport resident Jennifer Webb, who became the first married lesbian to hold state office when she was elected to the state House of Representatives last year.
“If nothing else, (my campaign) will raise awareness,” Herrod said. “It’s time that we got people aware of what’s really going on in the town underneath the curtains. Hopefully, that’ll be enough to energize people and get people talking to really try and make a difference.”
And if she doesn’t win?
Well, she has a back-up plan: She’ll run for mayor in three years.