Rick Kriseman Archives - Page 6 of 46 - SaintPetersBlog

Financial report says St. Petersburg is most fiscally healthy city in Florida

St. Petersburg is the most fiscally healthy large city in Florida, according to a new report.

The online Fiscal Times has put out a list of America’s large cities ranked by their fiscal stability — and the ‘Burg came out tops in the Sunshine State, and 23rd in the nation.

The report was written by Marc Joffe, director of policy research at the California Policy Center. He compiled the list using some a number of statistical tests.

A full 40 percent of the rating is based on the ratio of a city’s general fund balance to its expenditures, and another 30 percent goes to how much a city owes and how much it can pay (excluding its pension obligations). The other 30 percent is broken down in 10 percent increments on A) the ratio of actuarially determined pension contributions to total government wide-revenues, B) a change in the local unemployment rate, and C) a change in property values in 2015.

The announcement is a nice boost for Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is running for re-election this year.

“We are thrilled to be highlighted, but it comes as no surprise to us,” said Ben Kirby, a spokesman for the mayor. “It’s a reflection of our team’s talent and hard work and our focus on getting St. Petersburg’s finances back on track following the Great Recession.”

The report lists 116 cities in all, with Miami the next city from Florida on the list, coming in at 38.

Tampa is considered by the Fiscal Times as Florida’s third most fiscally healthy city, coming in at 60.

The Fiscal Times said that in order for a city to get a perfect score of 100, a city would have to have a general fund balance of at least 32 percent of general fund expenditures; long-term obligations (excluding pensions) no greater than 40 percent of total revenue; actuarially required pension contributions equal to no more than 5 percent of total revenue; stable or declining unemployment; and home price appreciation of at least 3 percent.

Orlando (72), Hialeah (93) and Jacksonville (102) complete the list of Florida cities in the report.

The nation’s most fiscally healthy city, according to the Fiscal Times, is Irvine, California. The two worst? Chicago is considered the worst, with New York City right behind them.


Rick Kriseman, Karl Nurse urge presidential pardons to keep immigrant families together

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council member Karl Nurse on Wednesday joined a national letter from local elected officials to President Barack Obama calling on him to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrant families by issuing a pardon for lawfully present immigrants with years-old or low-level criminal offenses.

The letter is signed by 60 local elected officials. It kicks off a week in which the president’s legacy on immigration will be at stake, with confirmation hearings and a national day of action that will highlight his record of both deportation and protection, and potentially show just how much could be dismantled by the incoming administration.

The White House has rejected previous calls for pardons for undocumented immigrants, asserting that a pardon cannot be used to grant people lawful immigration status. However, for legally present immigrants who already have status, but who face the risk of deportation based on minor and old convictions, a presidential pardon could provide durable protection against deportation that could not be undone by any future president.

Many of those who would be affected by the pardon were convicted of minor offenses, such as jumping a turnstile. In many cases, the offenses occurred decades ago. The letter joins Local Progress members with over 100 immigrant rights groups who made the same request to the president late last month. Forgiving all immigration consequences of convictions would guarantee that individuals can stay with their families and in their communities. Local Progress is a network of progressive local elected officials from around the country united by our shared commitment to equal justice under law, shared prosperity, sustainable and livable cities, and good government that serves the public interest. Local Progress is staffed by the Center for Popular Democracy.

As local elected officials, the signers of the letter see the impacts of a broken immigration system up close and in their communities, every day. Indeed, localities are often forced to deal with the consequences of deportation, be it in a family, business, child or broader neighborhood.

“As an immigrant who legally came to this country as a child, I have a brother and a sister who could be deported if they had committed a misdemeanor anytime in the last 58 years.  So this is personal,” Nurse said.

Kriseman added: “I applaud Councilman Karl Nurse for joining this effort and offer my enthusiastic support. I trust President Obama will do the right thing for our immigrant families in his remaining days in office.”

There is a significant historical precedent for this type of presidential pardon.

Categorical pardons have been used to grant clemency to broad classes of people in the past by presidents ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Jimmy Carter, the latter of whom issued a pardon to approximately half a million men who had broken draft laws to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.

Cross-Bay Ferry sells more than 5,400 tickets in December

More than 5,400 tickets were sold for the Cross-Bay Ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg in December, organizers said on Wednesday. That’s up from the 4,700 tickets sold in its inaugural month of November.

The six-month pilot project is a collaboration between four local governments: the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, along with Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. All four contributed $350,000 to pay for the cost of the pilot, which was spearheaded by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, and later by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“We are learning the lessons that only a real-life test can provide, which is why we wanted to run this six-month pilot project,”  said Kriseman in a statement. “So far, people are voting with their feet to ride it. That’s a great sign for developing a better future around our Tampa Bay waterfront.”

Officials say that weekday ticket sales (Monday – Thursday) started out slow in December, but ticket sales doubled in the third week of the month and tripled during the fourth week, with more than 1,700 weekday tickets sold.  Weekend ticket sales totaled 3,734.

“Those results show strong community interest in the ferry, especially given the ferry did not run during two holiday ‘blackout’ days, and during several days when weather closed Port Tampa Bay to all commercial vessel traffic, including cruise ships,” officials said on Wednesday.

The local governments are working with Seattle-based HMS Ferries on the Cross-Bay Ferry service. The company reported $64,213 in net revenue in November, with tickets sales recovering 46 percent of operating costs. “That is the highest recovery of operating costs of any transit operation on the west coast of Florida,” said Turanchik, who is working as a consultant to HMS. “This single vessel with limited operation is recovering two or four time more of its operating costs than our existing bus systems and lines in the Tampa Bay region.”

Turanchik and HMS Ferries first began working together several years ago on a project that would connect from the south shore area near Apollo Beach to MacDill Air Force Base.  That project is on hold before environmental impact studies are completed.

Once the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project ends in April, local officials will analyze the numbers and discuss whether they want to continue the project.

Improvements to St. Pete sewage system begin

Work to line aging sanitary sewer collection mains and city sewer laterals began Monday in the Bahama Shores and Coquina Key neighborhoods.

Part of Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s infrastructure plan, the $3.2 million lining project will help extend the life of sanitary sewer mains and prevent groundwater infiltration from entering the city’s sewage collection system. Depending on the weather, the project is expected to be completed by September.

St. Petersburg’s sewer system became the focus of controversy last year after the city dumped thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay during two storms. City officials said the quantity of rain overburdened the system. Officials blamed an aging infrastructure that allowed rain- and groundwater to get into the sewer pipes. The cleaning and lining process is designed to cure the leaks and prevent rain- and groundwater from seeping into the system in the future.

Insituform Technologies, LLC, will reline 8-inch-12-inch sanitary sewer collection mains and city sewer laterals to homes in the affected neighborhoods using a cured-in-place pipe lining process, which involves little to no digging compared to the traditional “dig and replace” pipe repair. CIPP instead utilizes pump around pumping, cleaning the existing pipe, closed-circuit TV inspection, pipe-lining, and restoration of the right-of-way.

Residents will be informed by door hangers before the start of each phase of the project and are encouraged to keep water usage at a minimum during active construction. Work is expected to begin around 8 a.m. each day. Local access will be maintained during the project.

Mitch Perry Report for 1.6.16 – Big time college athletics parks in Tampa this weekend

Big time college sports makes its way to Tampa this weekend with the college football championship slated for 8 p.m. Monday evening at Raymond James Stadium.

Both teams will be arriving at Tampa International Airport this afternoon, with Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney slated to headline a press conference tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. at the Tampa Convention Center.

Don’t expect any sparking quotes from Coach Saban, who is in rarefied air as one of the greatest coaches in college football history, but seems to never enjoy any part of that success. Do sit back and watch him provide a torturous response when asked what went down with his now former offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin.

These are college students, first and foremost, though you won’t hear that much about that this weekend. Clemson graduated 84 percent of their players in 2016, and Alabama graduated 80 percent, according to the latest graduation rates released last month by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.

There is a lot of discussion in the local media how crazy traffic conditions will be in downtown Tampa because of all the activity beginning today, but it really isn’t that big of a deal, unless you work downtown. For the rest of us, it’s a choice to come down to be part of the festivities (just don’t drive a car to get down there) unless you want to pay the rates you’d pay in New York City or Chicago for a few hours.

What I’m curious to see is how many people use the Cross-Bay Ferry, which was touted by its advocates last year to be a great transit option during this busy weekend.

Oh, wait. Nobody gets to use it tomorrow, apparently.

“Due to increased boat traffic by the convention center this weekend, the dock the ferry typically uses is not available on Saturday,” Rich Mullins, a spokesman for the ferry, told the Tampa Bay Times Rick Danielson yesterday. “A backup dock was also not available due to other operations. The online ticket system has a note that alerts travelers to the change. All other runs are still on schedule: Friday, Sunday and Monday.”

This excitement for a major football event makes me nostalgic for an event that Tampa does really well – hosting a Super Bowl. It’s been eight long years since the Cigar City hosted the ultimate game, and it may be that many years in the future before the city gets to do so again, sadly.

Last May, the NFL announced that Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles would be awarded the games for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021. Minneapolis had already been awarded the game in 2018. What do they all have in common? Well, with the exception of Miami, they’re brand new stadiums, which with the average cost these days being around $1 billion, the league has essentially rewarded those cities with the Super Bowl as a prize.

It was reported that Miami beat out Tampa for the 2020 game. While Tampa has put in approximately $100 million in stadium improvements, Miami “enhanced” their stadium to the tune of $450 million.

In other news..

Rick Kriseman has filed for re-election for mayor of St. Petersburg. The mayor is looking good in the polls to get four more  years for the public, though it could be a donnybrook if former Mayor Rick Baker chooses to re-enter into electoral politics.

Republicans dominate in Florida electoral politics, but Blaise Ingoglia wants more. The state part chairman is calling for a plan that calls for the party to overtake the Democrats in terms of party registration, where the Dems still lead the R’s by approximately 200,000 voters.

Dwight Bullard lays out his agenda for Florida Democratic Party chair. It includes a proposal to replace at least half of the FDP fundraising with donors who give less than $100 annually.

South Florida Democratic Representative Ted Deutch is calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

And the House of Representatives rejected Kathy Castor’s proposal to maintain some of the consumer friendly provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The GOP House may ultimately retain those provisions in their own replacement model, whatever year that happens to take place.

P.S. We’re shutting down MPR after today. It was originally created while this reporter was at Creative Loafing newspaper, and when I switched over to Extensive Enterprises Media in 2014, it was undecided whether we would continue the practice of having a column that was a place to hold our previous day’s stories. More than two years later, management is going to allow me a little more free time in the morning before going out and reporting on the news of the day in Tampa, Hillsborough County, Tallahassee, and all points beyond. Keep on reading!

Proposal for long-term deal between St. Pete, Rowdies likely to go before voters

The Tampa Bay Rowdies are ready for the big leagues, and it appears their shot will be coming sooner than later.

Major League Soccer announced last month that the Rowdies and St. Petersburg will be one of 10 cities under consideration for an expansion team.

Before that happens — representing a considerable boost for both the team and St. Petersburg — the Rowdies will need to show, among other things, a comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will provide proper support for fans and players, while also serving as a soccer destination in the community.

For that to happen, the Rowdies would first need a long-term lease with the city, which owns Al Lang Stadium.

But before realizing such an agreement, St. Petersburg voters must step in and approve the deal.

On Thursday, St. Pete City Council members discussed the steps necessary for both a referendum and a possible agreement. If all goes as planned, the vote will be held May 2 to ask voters’ permission to strike a deal to lease Al Lang to the Rowdies for up to 25 years.

Voters must also approve the lease, or some other agreement.

And if approved, a deal could be signed by mid- to late May, just time for Major League Soccer to make its decision.

The Rowdies, ready move ahead on this new phase in their history, agreed to take up all costs associated with the referendum, as well as that of getting the expansion and making improvements to Al Lang.

However, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman gave a caveat. The referendum “doesn’t commit us,” he said.

The mayor explained that what the referendum does is only give the city permission to negotiate a long-term agreement. And it all that rests on the Rowdies becoming an MLS expansion team. If the team doesn’t get the distinction, it would void the deal with St. Pete.

Councilmember Karl Nurse remains optimistic, though: “If we can make this work, it’s a big deal.”

While the Rowdies and St. Pete are one of the cities under consideration, there are others: Cincinnati, Ohio; Detroit, Nashville, Tennessee; Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; St. Louis, San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California.

Interested expansion owners must submit applications by Jan. 31.

Qualified applicants will submit documentation that focuses on the following three areas: 1) Ownership — Structure and financial information; 2) Stadium — details on proposed site, financing, approvals and support; and 3) Financial Projections, Corporate Support and Soccer Support — a business plan, projections and commitment letters for naming rights and a jersey-front sponsor, along with an overview of support from the soccer community.

Three key aspects are considered top priorities when reviewing candidates:

A committed local ownership group that has a passion for the sport, a deep belief in Major League Soccer and the resources to invest in the infrastructure to build the sport in their respective market.

A market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events, is located in a desirable geographic location and is attractive to corporate sponsors and television partners.

A comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will have a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.


Rick Kriseman formally announces he’s running for re-election

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman filed for re-election Thursday.

“I’m asking the citizens of St. Petersburg to continue the progress of the past three years,” the Mayor said in a statement. “Working together, we’ve taken on the serious issues and made a positive impact in all corners of our city.”

The announcement comes nearly three years to the day that Kriseman was sworn into office. It had been mostly smooth sailing for the former city councilman and state representative until issues with the town’s sewage system occurred last summer.

That’s led to some of the toughest criticism of his time in office for how his office has handled the situation.

St. Pete was already on the rise when Kriseman defeated Bill Foster by 12 percentage points in November 2013 and has continued to see unprecedented growth in the subsequent years.

As the Tampa Bay Times wrote in an editorial over the weekend, “No question St. Petersburg is on a roll. Is that because of City Hall or in spite of it?”

The Times also noted the rising cost of the new Pier, the lack of creating jobs in Midtown’s poorer neighborhoods and the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field as issues that voters will need to consider this fall. In his statement issued out by campaign manager Tom Alte, the Kriseman administration is taking credit for moving forward on the issues of the Rays and the Pier.

“Under the leadership of Mayor Kriseman, St. Petersburg has resolved numerous high-profile issues, including resolving the stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays, moving forward with a community-based plan to build a new pier, hiring a new police chief, and finding the funding needed for construction of a new police station,” it reads.

Since his election, Kriseman has signed legislation allowing for paid parental leave for employees, a higher minimum wage, and second chances for minors.

He’s also elevated the city’s profile through the pursuit of a Cuban consulate, picking up the void left by his friend across the bay, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, after he declined to get involved in that campaign.

“We’ve become the beacon of progress I spoke about on the steps of City Hall more than three years ago — but there is still work to do,” Kriseman said. “We must continue our efforts to combat gun violence and intervene in the lives of our troubled youth. We must do our part to make the sun shine bright on every student in every single public school.

“And we must upgrade our wastewater and stormwater systems as soon as possible if we’re serious about being a true 21st-century City.

“Our residents, business owners, and community groups are interested in action and progress, not politics. They want a mayor who faces challenges head-on and gets things done. I’ve been that mayor,” Kriseman said. “I know that we can solve any issue as long as we work together. I remain optimistic and excited about where the Sunshine City is heading.”

Throughout most of his tenure, the mayor’s poll numbers have been good, with his handling of the sewage system being his only real Achilles’ heel.

While the issues surrounding the Pier and the Rays have yet to be completely solved, they haven’t dented his popularity, which is unlike the case with Foster.

As of today, seemingly the only man in the way of another four years is former Mayor Rick Baker, who led St. Petersburg from 2001-2009. A St. Pete Polls survey conducted last month of 1,100 votes showed Baker with a surprisingly solid lead over Kriseman, 44 percent to 35 percent.

No other person in the poll mentioned — Jeff Brandes, Amy Foster, Steve Kornell or Karl Nurse — came close to defeating Kriseman (None of those lawmakers, it should be noted, have expressed any interest in running for mayor).

Baker has also been circumspect about another run for office. Since leaving City Hall in 2009, Baker declined opportunities to run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District on two separate occasions. Since 2012, he has served as president of The Edwards Group, the umbrella company that oversees all the enterprises of entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

Included in Kriseman’s re-election statement were endorsements from Sen. Bill Nelson and CD 13 Rep. Charlie Crist.

“Our residents, business owners, and community groups are interested in action and progress, not politics,” Kriseman said. “They want a mayor who faces challenges head-on and gets things done. I’ve been that mayor.”

“I know that we can solve any issue as long as we work together,” he added. “I remain optimistic and excited about where the Sunshine City is heading.”

As 2016 closes, Hillsborough’s transportation problems still mostly unsolved

Another year of our lives is about to become history, and that means another year where little tangible was accomplished in terms of addressing the transportation needs of the citizenry in Hillsborough County.

But a whole lot of people did get angry with each other over the process, anyway.

At this time a year ago, the biggest concern was: What would come out of the Hillsborough County Sheriff Department’s investigation into Go Hillsborough, the two-years-in-the-making transportation plan that called for a 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase?

“The Sherriff’s Office has completed most of the work in its investigation of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan but the results won’t be made public until mid-January,” the late and lamented Tampa Tribune wrote in December of 2015.

But it would not be released in January. Nor in February.

When it was ultimately released in March, the 1,974 page-report from the Sheriff’s office and State Attorney Mark Ober found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing in how county staff, commissioner and private consultant Beth Leytham acted in the months leading up to the selection of Leytham’s client, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to the project. But any momentum for what was always a rather large lift had been severely thwarted, thought it didn’t mean it was DOA, at all.  The referendum always required a simple majority of commissioners to vote to put the half-cent plan on the November 2016 ballot.

However, some Tampa liberals – considered to be the base of support for the tax – balked at what they said was a plan with too heavy an emphasis on roads and a lack of transit in the city.

On April 27, after hearing more than 60 people speak during a four-hour hearing, the BOCC rejected the plan on a 4-3 vote. The proposal died after Commission Victor Crist, always considered the swing vote on the seven-member board, said he was going with his “gut feeling” in opposing the measure.

But like Freddie Krueger, Go Hillsborough wasn’t quite dead yet.

Flash forward to six weeks later, when another 67 people came before the BOCC to give their views on a slightly revised measure. In this case, the tax would have gone for 20 years instead of the original 30 year-plan. But the vote tally on the BOCC was still the same. Go Hillsborough was dead. Again.

Several months later, the board ultimately voted to approved dedicating $600 million over the next decade to fix roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersections. But not much for transit, which upset newbie Commissioner Pat Kemp.

There is no talk about a referendum going up anytime soon.

While the county went nowhere on addressing transit, the Florida Department of Transportation’s ambitious plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 275, Interstate 4 and Interstate 75, as well as overhauls to the Howard Frankland Bridge moved forward. Sort of.

Opposition to the $6 billion plan Tampa Bay Express project has come most prominently from the areas that would be directly impacted, in Tampa’s Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor neighborhoods, and it’s been lasting and sustaining for more than a year-and-a-half.

The single biggest public hearing on the project took place on a summer night in June, when the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization held a public hearing on whether the TBX plan should be placed in its Transportation Improvement Plan for the next five years.

The 12-4 vote in favor of the plan came after eight hours of public hearing and 180 people signed up to speak, with the meeting concluding at 2:18 a.m.

Considered the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay area, the vote showed that while there are some lawmakers who strongly oppose the plan, the majority of the political and business establishment still remained solidly behind it.

In December, FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold said that he was hitting the “reset” button on the project, bringing in new staff to manage the project, “and work more intensively with the local communities.”

According to a Tampa Bay Times investigation, 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that FDOT aims to raze for TBX are in black and Latino households.

Another ongoing story that began in 2014 and lasted through most of this year was the continuing drama playing out at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

At one point during the acrimonious negotiations regarding the level of severity on background checks for ridesharing drivers, Uber pulled out their “Work with us or we’ll leave” card, which carried some real force after they literally did leave the Austin, Texas market over a similar disagreement with local regulators. And in this seemingly never ending saga, the public has, for better or worse, always been on the side of Uber/Lyft, and against the perceived stuffy bureaucrats not willing to adapt to a “disruptive” new mode of transportation.

At times, it got very ugly – and that was just between PTC Chair Victor Crist and his executive director, Kyle Cockream. Neither man ended up looking great at the end of it all, with Cockream first announcing his resignation, then postponing, then resigning again.

Crist, meanwhile, did a 180 from his previous stance in support of going hard on Uber and Lyft, and seemingly overnight became their ally, much to the consternation of fellow PTC board members David Pogorilich and Frank Reddick.

By the end of the year, the beleaguered PTC was barely standing, after a vote by the Hillsborough legislative delegation may ultimately give the agency just twelve more months to find a graceful way to exit the scene, with presumably the regulatory duties being handled by the BOCC, which is the case virtually everywhere else.

And oh, yes, Uber and Lyft drivers are now legally good to pick up and drop off passengers (not that their illegal stance did much to deter them previously).

And then there was the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project taking residents from Tampa to St. Petersburg and back, a plan spearheaded privately by former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and publicly by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who, hat in hand, was able to procure $350,000 each from the local governments of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Tampa and his own City Council in St. Pete, respectively.

And while there was a lot of fanfare when the rides began, with seemingly every local official being captured on Facebook Live taking a maiden journey, WFLA- Newschannel 8 reported in mid- December that one recent day, only two people had taken the ferry, and a week before, only one passenger was on a trip from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

City of St. Petersburg chooses Capitol Alliance Group as new lobbyist

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has chosen the Capitol Alliance Group of Tallahassee to be the city’s lobbyist in the state capitol.

Although Kriseman has made the choice, details of the contract have not been ironed out, spokesman Ben Kirby said.

Capitol Alliance will replace the city’s current lobbyist, Peebles and Smith, also based in Tallahassee, in the upcoming Legislative Session. St. Petersburg’s contract will Peebles expired Sept. 30. The contract was worth $50,000 last year.

Capitol Alliance has a wide range of clients across the state, including the city of Key West and Leon County. Other clients include the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, the PGA Tour, and Tesla Motors. The Capitol Alliance Group’s team includes Dr. Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl.

Capitol Alliance was one of six firms that submitted proposals for the contract. The others were Peebles; Ballard Partners; Ron Boo, P.A.; Dean, Mead, Egerton, Bloodwork, Capouano & Bozarth of Tallahassee; and Southern Strategy Group of Tampa Bay.

It is unclear when the contract will be final. The 2017 Legislative Session convenes March 7.

Barclay Harless announces run for St. Petersburg City Council

Barclay Harless, a 31-year-old banker and former aide to state Sen. Darryl Rouson, will be running for District 2 seat on the St. Petersburg City Council next year.

Harless announced Tuesday he will be seeking the seat currently held by Jim Kennedy, who is term-limited out of office next year.

“We have a great city and we want to keep it that way and we want to improve upon everything that’s been built over the past two decades,” Harless said last week as to why he’s running for Council.

Speaking at Hawkers Asian Street Fare in the city’s Edge District, Harless believes millennials like himself are continuing to be a part of the fabric of the St. Petersburg.

“They’re opening businesses. They’re becoming policemen and teachers, and so I want to preserve what we’ve built and fix what’s not working.”

What’s not working?

“We have an infrastructure challenge,” referring to one of St. Pete’s major stories of the year — sewage system problems that has been gripping City Hall for months.

Harless also mentions the continuing work with the Pier. If elected, he wants to amend the city’s permitting process.

“Just naturally being at a bank with a lot of small businesses,” Harless says, “you hear from folks who have opened up businesses in Sarasota and Tampa and elsewhere.

“They’ll tell you that the St. Pete permitting process is challenging, compared to some of the others.”

Another improvement would be on the lack of affordable housing for middle-income people in St. Pete. Harless suggests the city look at changing zoning requirements, freeing up more housing for people without children or pets.

“We need to rezone some of these areas that are maybe single family homes that were made for two bedrooms and one bathroom,” he says, quickly adding that it should be “privately driven.”

“But I think the city can encourage private industry to move in that direction.”

When asked about how he feels Mayor Rick Kriseman has handled the sewage problem, Harless is sympathetic, saying that leaders need to solve problems; he believes that the city now has a set plan going forward to deal with major storms.

However, the closest Harless comes to criticizing anyone on the matter is when he mentions Mike Connors, the longtime city public works administrator who resigned abruptly a year ago.

“I know he had a lot of power in a very central location,” Harless says. “And sometimes in an organization, that can cause fear.”

Crime is a concern that needs to be taken seriously, Harless notes.

“I have a lot of friends who say they’ve been the victim of criminal activity, and they say ‘I’m not going to bother with filing anything,’ and I always tell them, file it,'” he says, adding that with more data, the more likely that city leaders can understand the underlying issues behind such activities.

Running for political office at this stage of his life wasn’t something he was thinking about until about a year or so ago, until officials with both the St. Pete Chamber and some nonprofit agencies suggested he might be a viable candidate in District 2.

Harless was born in Melbourne, Florida, and has lived in St. Petersburg since he began attending USFSP more than a decade ago.

After graduating, his first job was as a legislative aide to Rouson.

“It was a pleasure working for Darryl because he’s just so involved. Not just in the Legislature, but he’s also active on the local level,” Harless recounts. “He has his hands on all types of projects, so even if he wasn’t working on them, he wanted to be informed about them if they impacted his area.”

In late 2013, Harless left Rouson to become a campaign scheduler for Alex Sink, who had just announced her campaign for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which opened after the death of C.W. Bill Young.

Following that campaign, Sink, a former banker herself, suggested Harless get into the banking business,

The “best advice I ever got,” he says.

In May 2014, he was hired by Trevor Burgess, the then-chief of C1 Bank in St. Petersburg, as a business development officer.  In May 2016, Harless was promoted to assistant bank officer, shortly before CI was sold to Bank of the Ozarks.

Harless worries about street parking, saying he knows of some business owners who were forced to leave downtown because it has become too big of a problem for them — specifically Ricky P’s Orleans Bistro, which closed shop this past summer in the Edge District for its location on 4th Street.

Harless’ political aspiration began in college. He was elected student body president at UFSP, but his brief reign ended ignominiously in 2007, after alcohol was found in his campus office.

Facing the threat of an impeachment proceeding conducted by the Student Government, Harless resigned.

“I was 22 years old,” he says deliberately, clearly prepared to be asked the question. “It was after a long day. I invited some good friends of mine back to my office. It was night time. It was after hours. I violated campus policy.

“It’s changed since then,” he recounts, “but back then you have to file for a ‘social’, essentially, and I dealt with it. I lied about it initially, and then I took responsibility for myself and resigned.”

In retrospect, he says that in some ways it was one of the best things that could happen have happened to him. “I hate to say it was a testing phase of my life … I didn’t violate any laws, you know? But it was a lesson I’ll never forget, and it means a lot to me.”

Harless becomes the first candidate to announce for District 2 in the upcoming election cycle, to represent the area encompassing the northern part of the city.

Councilmembers Darden Rice and Amy Foster will also be seeking for re-election in Districts 4 and 8, respectively. The District 6 race will also feature new candidates, as incumbent Karl Nurse is term-limited out next fall.

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