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Mystery ballot questions in St. Pete election cruise to approval

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

All four ballot questions on the St. Pete ballot Tuesday were soundly approved by voters. None won by less than about 25 points.

Referendum question number one, asking voters whether the city should approve “permanent use restrictions over a portion of city owned submerged lands in Tampa Bay” was approved with 85 percent of the vote.

That referendum refers to submerged lands near North Shore Park. It would give City Council the authority to create permanent restrictions on land use in order to preserve seagrass beds.

The referendum is aimed at water quality improvement and habitat conservation.

The second question asked voters whether “Precinct Lines Need Not be Followed Where it Would Compromise Compact and Contiguous Council Districts.” That was approved by 62 percent of voters.

This city referendum would allow City Council, essentially, to not use precinct boundaries as a basis for drawing City Council district lines — meaning two voters in the same precinct could be in different districts.

The city is charged with redrawing district lines every 10 years. Lines are redrawn after the city receives results from the once-a-decade federal census. Under the current charter, districts must be drawn in a “compact, contiguous territory” with their lines following “the centerlines of streets, railroad lines or other natural boundaries.” But the charter also calls for districts to “follow voting precinct lines whenever possible.”

The change to language merely clarifies that keeping districts “compact and contiguous” trumps precinct lines.

The third ballot question, and perhaps the most straight forward, was approved by 94 percent of the vote.

It requires City Council and mayoral candidates should to live either in their district, or, in the case of a mayoral candidate, in the city before, during and after an election.

That referendum prevents City Council members from renting a home in one district and then moving out of that district after an election. It would also ensure a sitting mayor couldn’t leave St. Pete as his or her place of residence during the mayoral term.

The final ballot question approved streamlines the way City Council votes are tallied during meetings. Currently City Council members use an automated system to vote. The results are then visually shown and the City Clerk reads aloud the results.

The referendum, approved by 72 percent of voters, eliminates the mandate that results be verbally tallied.

The referendum questions were relatively unknown by voters going into Election Day. In a poll released in early September more than 80 percent of voters didn’t know about the questions.

During exit polling at Pinellas Community Church Tuesday morning, a handful of voters agreed they didn’t know much about the ballot questions, but did the best they could to answer appropriately.

Tuesday’s election also ushered in a new council member. Lisa Wheeler-Brown overwhelmingly defeated Will Newton being vacated by Wengay Newton who is leaving office due to term limits.

Incumbents Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes also won re-election.

Ed Montanari will be sworn in along with those winners on January 2. He was elected unopposed following the city’s qualifying deadline.

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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