St. Pete City Council Archives - Page 3 of 31 - SaintPetersBlog

Rays stadium saga finale: How long will it take?

If there is one thing reporters and the most civically engaged of St. Pete residents know it’s that high-profile topics coming up at 3 p.m. City Council meetings spell one very, very late night.

I once had to watch my oldest daughter’s school play that she had been rehearsing for months with one eye on my laptop at the very back of the auditorium with one earbud in because an 8:30 a.m. meeting had dragged on well into the evening. That time it was The Pier.

Another time, I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. listening to a tired City Council that had been in and out of meetings since early that morning debate whether or not to make it easier for neighborhoods to kick off the historic designation process.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been up watching City Council well into the late night hours because there were dozens upon dozens of public speakers and marathon debates among disagreeing council members.

So the question I have today, and probably several other of my City Hall brethren, is — how long will I be listening tonight as Council prepares to vote on the latest in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium saga?

I’ve got to say, I’m cautiously optimistic. For starters, one of the most bullheaded council members on this topic, and one known for his ability to ignore the time, is no longer on the dais. Wengay Newton may show up with his two-cents, but this time around he’ll be given only three minutes to speak on the topic just like everyone else who’s not an elected council member.

Steve Kornell and Jim Kennedy may put up a fight, but they probably know they’re outnumbered and unlikely to woo anyone to their side. Certainly, each will offer reasoning for continuing to oppose the Mayor’s latest deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to let the major league baseball team search for alternative stadium sites. They’ll probably say a thing or two about protecting the taxpayer.

Ed Montanari and Lisa Wheeler-Brown have never had the privilege of debating the issue from the dais, so they might have a bit to add.

And I imagine there will be a decent number of people showing up to speak on the subject.

But, while I’m not saying it’s going to be a three-up/three-down sort of inning for Council, I’m also not banking on extra innings this time around.

As always, recognition to various people and groups comes very first at the meeting. This week there are five. Typically speaking, those honors usually take about ten minutes each and then the Rays issue is up.

That is the only item on the agenda. On second thought, maybe someone is anticipating those extra innings after all. Follow me on Twitter to follow along with my banter on the topic and see if my long, but not too long prediction holds up.

For the record, I get funnier with each passing hour.

St. Pete City Council furthers talk on fossil fuel divestment

St. Petersburg City Council members are considering divesting the city from fossil fuels. During a meeting Thursday, the eight-member board voted unanimously to refer to the Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee a divestment measure recommended by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The measure would affect city pensions where investments are currently placed strategically to incur the most financial benefit. City Council approval of the issue would remove fossil fuel industries from those investments.

Kriseman pushed the issue as a way to encourage sustainability, specifically renewable energy. A few residents and community partners spoke during public comment in support of the measure.

“Years ago many of us thought that climate change would happen someday, but it turns out that someday is now,” said Mackenzie Avallone of the group Environment Florida. “That’s why our city needs to act swiftly and boldly.”

She explained the first step to curbing carbon emissions that lead to global warming is to making sure the city doesn’t remain a part of the problem implying that by continuing to place key investments in fossil fuels, the city is doing just that.

Though the vote to further the conversation was unanimous, new City Councilman Ed Montanari expressed concerns.

“I don’t think that it would be good policy for a city council to start directing investment policy,” Montanari said. “It gets to a level of micromanagement that we shouldn’t be doing.”

And whether or not the city even can do that isn’t clear. City Councilman Jim Kennedy asked whether the council had the jurisdiction to direct pension boards on investments. The answer from the city’s legal staff was simple: They just aren’t sure yet.

“We’re looking into that,” said city attorney Jackie Kovilaritch. “I can’t give you an answer on it.”

Again expressing reservations, Montanari defended the fossil fuel industry.

“They’re one of the biggest investors when it comes to renewable energy,” he said.

St. Pete City Council approves biosolids project funding

St. Pete City Council approved approximately $67 million for upgrades to the city’s biosolids program. The Biosolids and Waste to Energy Project is expected to make the city’s wastewater treatment procedures more sustainable and come with significant savings.

“The Biosolids and Waste to Energy Project will provide a means to produce a sustainable Class A biosolids suitable for use as a soil amendment, reduce operational costs for biosolids processing by consolidating operations at the [Southwest Water Reclamation Facility], provide needed replacement of worn and obsolete equipment, produce renewable biogas fuel to power vehicles and produce electrical energy for facility operations, and reduce the city’s carbon footprint,” a City Council supplement on the issue read.

The vote included five separate expenditures. The largest of which is to the Haskell Company for just under $65 million designating the company as the project’s Construction Manager at Risk.

A second amendment to the construction manager at risk agreement with the Haskell Company with a GMP just under $65 million. Another $1.6 million will go to the company Brown and Caldwell for construction phase services. The rest of the planned expenditures on the project will go to other construction services from AECOM, Black and Veatch Corporation and Carollo Engineers.

The project is expected to be online by 2019.

Though approved, the project did not come without questions. Several residents around Eckerd College where a current treatment plant leaves quite the stench spoke on the project with concerns that foul smells would continue with increased infrastructure.

“Eckerd has a set of dorms they can keep freshman in because by the time they’re sophomores they know better because it stinks so bad,” Council member Steve Kornell said, echoing concerns.

City staff assured council, however, that several measures would be taken to ensure stinky water treatment was reduced. The project includes facilities for odor control as well as enclosed areas for things like dewatering that are currently done in the open and lead to foul smells.

The project comes with about $3.7 million of operational savings each year that will kick off when the new facilities come online. About $1.5 million of those savings will be realized when factoring in payments to money borrowed for the project.

Kornell questioned whether those savings could be used to fund future improvements to the city’s water infrastructure without raising utility rates for residents. Staff suggested that was a possibility, but wouldn’t commit one way or the other.

Water issues in St. Pete long buried in the news as one of the most non-sexy of city government issues became a common headline last summer after the city dumped millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into local waterways after an extraordinary rain event that left the city’s infrastructure overburdened.

One of the issues that arose during that event was that the city had taken offline a facility at Albert Whitted Airport.

“We closed capacity at Albert Whitted before we opened capacity to replace it at Southwest,” Council member Charlie Gerdes said noting that the city had dropped the ball with that decision.

He clarified that such a reduction in capacity would not occur with this project.

New City Council means new things for St. Pete

Two new St. Pete City Council members will cast their first votes from the dais at City Hall this week. Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Ed Montanari will take over for Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley who represented their districts and the city for eight years.

With a new council comes a whole new era in St. Pete politics. But what will that look like?

The obvious is the expected end to the longstanding stalemate over the Tampa Bay Rays and Tropicana Field. With Wheeler-Brown replacing Newton, the 4-4 deadlock is likely to end. Mayor Rick Kriseman wasted no time in bringing a new deal to the council. Kriseman is reportedly meeting with council members this week to test the waters.

St. Pete political insiders expect a vote this month.

But beyond that, priorities and movement in the city could shift even as the board’s face only changed by two. Montanari will likely be a pro-business voice on the board. He’s expected to put a full-scale effort into attracting new businesses.

Among all of St. Pete’s wins throughout the Kriseman administration, bringing a big-name corporate headquarters to the city has failed to grace the list. With a strong-willed, business-minded political powerhouse such as Montanari, that could change.

Montanari also brings to the board a continued conservative voice. Dudley was the only Republican on the nonpartisan board. Montanari will assume that same role. And Montanari will also likely carry Dudley’s ability to keep the nonpartisan aspect of City Council alive and well.

Too often, partisan politics play out on boards even when they’re not supposed to. However, though Montanari may carry with him a sense of fiscal conservatism, he’ll also be pragmatic. And his ability to cross party lines was ever-so-transparent before his election when he attracted an impressively bipartisan coalition of support.

Meanwhile, Wheeler-Brown continues Newton’s progressive leanings on the board, but puts an end to his tendency to stand as a check on the Kriseman administration. Depending on who’s being asked, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Kriseman has in Wheeler-Brown an ally on many things St. Petersburg. She’ll likely stand with him on the Rays. She was heavily backed by both Karl Nurse and Darden Rice, both of whom have tended to side with the mayor’s priorities, though not without some pushback.

Residents should also expect Wheeler-Brown to make strides in improving education for St. Pete students, particularly those at the five failing elementary schools in South St. Pete.

Though, because her hands are tied as a member of City Council and NOT the Pinellas County School Board, Wheeler-Brown is likely to ally with the school district as well as the city’s newly appointed education liaison.

Improving education for residents in her district was one of Wheeler-Brown’s campaign promises.

Another priority championed by Kriseman that Wheeler-Brown will likely push is job creation. Where Montanari will be a driving force in bringing larger companies into town, Wheeler-Brown is likely to focus on creating job opportunities in her community through better education, job training, and after-school jobs to give teens a better shot at future success.

Another change to the 2016 City Council is its leadership duo. Amy Foster and Rice, two of the council’s three openly gay members, were sworn in as chairwoman and vice chairwoman over the weekend. The move builds on the city’s already robust commitment to equality that has seen its first openly gay council member elected, its first mayor to be grand marshal of the Gay Pride parade, and the first administration to fly the pride flag in honor of the parade. Kriseman also celebrated Florida’s first day of legalized same-sex marriages by performing a couple’s marriage himself.

Never mind the nod to equality under Foster/Rice leadership. Both have proven political powerhouses during the first half of their first terms. Rice led a powerful push to bring universal curbside recycling to St. Pete, among other key accomplishments, while Foster as made impressive headway in combating nuisance properties in St. Pete like the Mosely Hotel and New Plaza.

The two are politically savvy, smart and driven. With the two women at the helm, there’s no doubt they will only continue to build on the progress made in 2015 under Charlie Gerdes’ watch.

Some other key issues to watch unfold in 2016 include finalizing plans to create a civil citation program for marijuana offenders, increased attention to business and continued emphasis on economic recovery on the Southside.

Saturday kicks off new era for St. Petersburg City Council

Two St. Petersburg City Council members are getting ready to leave City Hall after eight years of service. That means two more are getting ready to take their places.

Bill Dudley and Wengay Newton both served the maximum two terms allowed under the city charter with passion and conviction, and they will be missed. But it’s time to pass the torch to their successors.

At 10 a.m. Saturday at City Hall, Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Ed Montanari will be sworn in to replace the two veteran city leaders.

Wheeler-Brown is inviting supporters to participate in the celebration. A Facebook event page created this week shows that 85 people were invited with more than 30 indicating they plan to attend.

The event marks the culmination of a rocky campaign for Wheeler-Brown. The longtime community activist spent years working in her poverty-stricken Midtown neighborhood in order to boost residents’ cooperation with police. After her son Cabretti‘s 2008 slaying,  Wheeler-Brown struck out into the streets of her community to break down the so-called “no-snitch” code of silence.

She did and, thanks to her efforts, her son’s killer was brought to justice.

But the tragic past and ultimate triumph over it became blurred during what was the nastiest campaign in recent St. Pete history. Wheeler-Brown was first caught up in the middle of a campaign finance controversy after using campaign funds to pay for personal dental work.

More mistakes were later found documenting sloppy bookkeeping and unreported contributions. From there it only got worse. Wheeler-Brown’s past was called into question including minor misdemeanor charges for retail theft and writing a bad check.

A foundation created in her son’s murder was even questioned after discovering there was no paper trail documenting how much money was raised or how it was spent.

At one point there was even a negative third party mailer distributed showing an unflattering photo of Wheeler-Brown with skin visibly darkened.

Supporters were outraged. Ultimately Wheeler-Brown soundly defeated her opponent, Will Newton. On election night she was all smiles, poised to put the nastiness behind her.

On Saturday, that will happen.

Wheeler-Brown will be joined by Montanari for the swearing in ceremony. Though Montanari was elected without opposition, his journey to City Hall was more than eight years in the making.

Montanari narrowly lost to Dudley two terms prior. By the time his turn came around again Montanari had gathered support from the incumbent and an impressive bipartisan group of community leaders.

This Saturday supporters get to watch as one candidate assumes a position she fought back tears to win and another takes on a role he’s been seeking for nearly a decade.

The two new council members also bring with them the potential for major change on City Council. Wheeler-Brown is widely considered the fifth vote needed to advance a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to allow the baseball team to begin searching for stadium sites outside of St. Pete.

That issue has been pending since 2009.

Top St. Pete headlines in 2015: No. 1 – Lisa Wheeler-Brown

As 2015 winds down we took a look back at the year’s news in St. Pete and came up with a list of the top 10 most newsworthy happenings. Whether the news evoked outrage in a community, excitement or even heartbreak, these are the top headlines of 2015.

No. 1 – Lisa Wheeler-Brown

Lisa Wheeler-Brown will replace Wengay Newton on St. Pete City Council in January and it’s a big deal. For a lot of reasons, Wheeler-Brown’s campaign and subsequent election has been the biggest news in St. Pete this year.

First of all, the campaign was considered one of the bloodiest in St. Pete’s history. City Council elections tend to be void of the negative campaigning voters see in higher profile elections. That was not the case for Wheeler-Brown.

The city councilmember-elect jumped into the race early. By the time qualifying ended, there were five candidates in all with Wheeler-Brown widely seen as the front runner. Her toughest competition turned out to be Will Newton, brother of the incumbent. She also faced credible threat from Republican Sheila Scott-Griffin.

The nastiness emerged when a negative campaign mailer came out highlighting several Florida Bar suspensions against Scott-Griffin when she was an attorney. It also accused the candidate of collecting money from a client while failing to perform even the bare minimum duties.

The mailer prompted the Newton campaign to accuse the Wheeler-Brown campaign of involvement with the mailer although an outside party foot the bill. It was downhill from there.

Wheeler-Brown already had disclosed a checkered past, acknowledging charges of retail theft and writing bad checks when younger. She told the Tampa Bay Times early in her campaign that she had learned from those mistakes. The issue faded until  Wheeler-Brown and Newton emerged in the primary as the top two vote-getters.

Newton supporters took to Facebook and other social media to question Wheeler-Brown’s past.

Then speculation arose about a foundation she created after her son’s murder. Newton supporters questioned the foundation’s spending because there was no paper trail.

Wheeler-Brown’s supporters accused Newton and allies of implying Wheeler-Brown had profited from her son’s murder.

Perhaps the biggest blow to the Newton campaign came from a late third-party mailer with an unflattering photo of Wheeler-Brown, an African-American woman, that was visibly darkened to make her skin appear darker.

Wheeler-Brown handily defeated Newton in November. Many political insiders suspect the negative campaigning may have weighed in her favor.

She won despite questionable campaign finance moves including a $500 expenditure for personal dental work, failure to report in-kind contributions and a slew of misreported items.

The unprecedented dirty campaigning wasn’t the only effect the election had on St. Petersburg. Wheeler-Brown’s election likely ensures a nearly decade-old issue is put to bed.

The city has been grappling with the Tampa Bay Rays’ problem of chronically low attendance ratings since about 2007. The team back then wanted to build a new stadium on the downtown waterfront. When that measure failed in 2008, the team made noises about moving outside of St. Pete.

However, the team’s ironclad use agreement with the city to play ball at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season prohibited them from looking. Mayor Rick Kriseman finally reached a deal with the team in late 2014, but City Council blocked it. So too were subsequent proposals.

Wheeler-Brown replaces a Rays’ stadium holdout. Her presence on council means Kriseman will likely have enough support to draft a new deal and move it forward.

Kriseman, not surprisingly, voted for Wheeler-Brown. Though he never said it was because of the Rays, it was no secret her opponent would not have been as friendly to  his proposals.

Top St. Pete headlines in 2015: No. 7 – Historic preservation

As 2015 winds down we took a look back at the year’s news in St. Petersburg and came up with a list of the top 10 most interesting happenings. Whether the news evoked outrage in a community, excitement, or even heartbreak, these are the top headlines of 2015.

No. 7 – Historic preservation

St. Petersburg is home to several historic neighborhoods: Historic Old Northeast, Historic Kenwood, Old Southeast and others. A debate over how to obtain local historic designation in those neighborhoods came to a boil in 2015 as residents rallied both for and against loosening the process to get that ball rolling.

Until August, two-thirds of a neighborhood would have to “vote” to begin the process of obtaining local historic designation. That threshold included every single homeowner, whether they lived in their homes or not. Those who chose not to vote were automatically considered a no-vote.

In late August that threshold changed to 50 percent of all homeowners, plus one. In a neighborhood of 2,000 homes, that means about 300 fewer yes votes are needed.

But the change was a far cry from what historic preservation supporters wanted. Originally they asked for 50 percent plus one of only those who chose to weigh in. But opponents, many of whom cited property rights, argued that threshold was too low because the process could launch with just a very small percentage of homeowners taking a side.

That led to proposed compromise after proposed compromise including providing a minimum response threshold and keeping the two-thirds threshold, but among only those who voted.

Supporters and critics spent weeks, months even, lobbying City Council members. A public records request of those emails unveiled hundreds both in favor and opposition.

Of more than 450 emails analyzed, about 300 were in opposition to an ordinance change. Most of those emails were a form letter. This is how the blasts from hundreds of St. Pete residents, many from Snell Isle, read:

“As a homeowner living in St. Petersburg, I oppose the proposed change to our Historic Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance that would lower the designation vote threshold to 50 percent plus 1 of respondents. This change would put my private property rights in the hands of a small minority of homeowners, and it would infringe on my ability to change my own house. It’s not fair, and the city should not support this shortsighted plan.

“The current threshold for designation is 66 percent of property owners in the neighborhood. This ensures that most everyone in the neighborhood supports preservation — it is fair, it’s democratic and it prevents the rule of a few over what we can do with our homes. Please vote NO to changing the threshold for Historic Neighborhood Preservation to 50 percent plus 1 of respondents, and keep the threshold at 66 percent of property owners. Don’t make it easier for other people to take over my property decisions!”

But despite the heavy pressure leading up to a City Council vote, the actual public comment during the August meeting turned out to weigh heavily in favor of supporters of the change.

The heightened emotion on both sides of the issue led to a City Council meeting that carried on from its beginning on a Thursday night into the wee hours of the morning Friday. It was perhaps the most chaotic of any council meeting this year.

Motions made by council included a minimum threshold of 30 percent of homeowners responding with a 75 percent affirmative response rate. That motion, which failed, was proposed by Karl Nurse.

Another, proposed by Wengay Newton, asked for a 50 percent plus one response with a two-thirds affirmative vote, also failed.

A motion to require a two-thirds ballot response with a two-thirds yes-vote threshold failed.

There was a motion for a 30 percent minimum response rate with two-thirds yes votes. That also failed.

And that’s how the night went.

The motion that ultimately passed wasn’t even the first time the motion had been made. Councilmember Darden Rice changed her original no vote to a yes.

It was the ultimate definition of chaos fueled by more than 75 nods either in favor or opposition to any changes at all and years of asking the same question: Should it be easier for neighborhoods to obtain historic designation?

The lengthy meeting led to some, particularly former City Councilman Jeff Danner, questioning the wisdom of council taking a vote at such a late hour and after many hours  of debate.

At one point one council member even uttered the words, “Blah, blah, blah.”

The issue was quiet after the controversial vote. However, historic preservation supporters did see at least one win this year when early in December a historic home in Allendale Terrace was granted local historic designation.

Top St. Pete headlines in 2015: No. 8 – Phoebe Jonchuck

As 2015 winds down we took a look back at the year’s news in St. Pete and came up with a list of the top 10 most memorable happenings. Whether the news evoked outrage in a community, excitement or even heartbreak, these are the top headlines of 2015.

No. 8 – Phoebe Jonchuck

Barely a week into 2015, the city was shaken by one of its most tragic and emotional headlines. A 5-year-old girl was thrown from the Dick Misener Bridge approaching the Sunshine Skyway bridge.

To make the news even more horrifying, Phoebe Jonchuck, it was later learned, was still alive when her father, John Jonchuck, dropped her 60-feet from the top of the bridge.

The incident happened in the wee morning hours after Jonchuck was spotted speeding at 100 miles per hour. St. Petersburg police Officer William Vickers stopped him on the bridge. The officer watched in horror as Jonchuck got out the car, pulled his young daughter out and then threw her off the bridge.

Vickers immediately tried to spot the girl in the water from atop the bridge. She was  found later a mile away from the bridge near the Eckerd College campus.

Students at Eckerd came together to assist in search-and-rescue operations. St. Pete City Council officially recognized the school’s search-and-rescue team at a meeting in March.

“This was at 1 in the morning and we needed a way to get this little girl back,” St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway said during a presentation. “I’m telling you it was windy, the weather was bad, but they came out right away.”

The 52 student volunteers on the team are unpaid and they don’t receive college credit for their service.

The community remained frustrated as Jonchuck remained unpunished for the brutal murder of his daughter because of his psychiatric state. Jonchuck was ruled incompetent to stand trial for the first-degree murder charge. He still has not been brought to trial.

The murder elicited an emotional response from residents with many venting their outrage on Facebook. Photos circulated of the girl, the most heart-wrenching of all was her in an angelic Halloween costume.

Tragic occurrences are not uncommon in the news, but none this year have been as hard to swallow as this innocent and unnecessary loss of life.

Phoebe Jonchuck’s death could have been avoided. Custody disputes between her father and mother left a judge torn between placing the girl with a father who had a history of domestic violence including toward his daughter and her mother, a known meth user. He remains in court custody in a hospital.

New Tampa Bay Rays deal not likely to look like old one

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is planning a series of sit-downs with individual City Council members in hopes of earning support for a new deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to let the team search for new stadium sites outside of St. Pete.

The move is not surprising.

While Kriseman and his staff had no comment on the issue, it’s likely they’ve been counting the days until January. This weekend, two new council members will be sworn in. One of them is likely to swing the tide in Kriseman’s favor.

Council members Bill Dudley and Will Newton are leaving the dais due to term limits. Pilot Ed Montanari and community activist Lisa Wheeler-Brown replace them, respectively.

The Dudley/Montanari swap is a wash for the Kriseman administration – both were opposed to various deals to let the Major League Baseball team look. But Wheeler-Brown is much more cozy with the idea of supporting a deal.

With the current council deadlocked on a previous deal, Wheeler-Brown would like be Kriseman’s fifth “yes.”

But whatever deal Kriseman now has up his sleeve is likely to look a lot different than what he came up with in late 2014 or even the modified version of that deal that came later in 2015.

Originally, Kriseman and Rays’ president Brian Auld agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding that would have forced the team to pay a sliding scale fee to the city beginning at $4 million a year and reducing as the remaining use agreement became less valuable. That fee would only be assessed if the team played baseball somewhere else.

The original deal was suffocated in a crippling 5-3 vote. Later, Kriseman and Auld agreed to change wording in the MOU to ensure St. Pete maintained exclusive development rights to the Tropicana Field site should the team choose to vacate. That plan also died and the board has since been locked at 4-4 on the issue with Amy Foster swapping sides.

For months leading up to the election that decided Wheeler-Brown’s fate as a councilmember, her race was seen as Tampa Bay’s bellwether. A Wheeler-Brown victory translated to a Rays deal. Done.

But it’s not that simple. As Kriseman has put it in a couple of different forums including in a heated lashing to council earlier this year, deals don’t typically get better with time, they get worse.

What Kriseman means is, the more time that goes by, the more leverage the Rays have in bargaining. Its leverage was boosted yet again when the Pinellas County Commission dangled an $8 million carrot from tourist taxes that would be crucial in funding a new stadium should the Rays decide to stay in St. Pete.

So, with that in mind, Kriseman probably had an uphill battle in coming up with a new deal that wouldn’t come across to council and the public as a giant step backward.

It seems unlikely Kriseman would risk coming to council with anything less on the table than was previously there. Estimates on what compensation would look like if the Rays let St. Pete under the original deal were put at around $20 million or so.

Instead, it seems more likely Kriseman would recreate a deal altogether. It’s difficult to compare and contrast when the methodology of compensation is entirely different.

There are a lot of possibilities. First, Kriseman could tear a page out of Councilmember Charlie Gerdes’ book and think up some sort of you pay nothing if you stay in St. Pete clause and a sliding fee depending on where the team moves if it’s not St. Pete. i.e., the team pays more to move to Tampa than they would to stay in Pinellas.

There’s also the fee-to-look option. Under Kriseman’s original brokered deal, the Rays only paid if they decided to dump Tropicana Field. A search fee, of sorts, could soften the blow of an otherwise less lucrative deal for the city by guaranteeing profit whether or not the Rays stay in St. Pete.

It’s even possible that Kriseman and Auld are looking way outside the box. Could they be talking about new stadiums in St. Pete? The prospects for other locations are looking far less bright than one year ago. Jeff Vinik’s Channelside monster is no longer an option and Tampa leadership seems less able to offer any help in funding a stadium.

The bottom line is, anything is possible, but it’s not likely a new deal will resemble the old one. And Kriseman needs this to work. Time is running short.

The Rays have been itching to explore new stadium sites since 2009 after their waterfront stadium hopes were dashed by voters. Even without an approved deal yet, Kriseman has already made more ground than mayors before him. But without a deal signed with council’s seal of approval, his efforts are still for naught.

According to The Tampa Tribune, Kriseman did not have meetings with council members prior to the first vote on his original deal. He is wise to ensure those conversations occur before taking the issue to a public meeting. Another failed vote could prove detrimental to his administration.

While council has a meeting next week, a vote on a new deal isn’t expected until at least the Jan. 14 meeting.

Kriseman can expect support from Gerdes, Karl Nurse and Darden Rice almost without hesitation. Amy Foster and Wheeler-Brown are also likely to side with a deal. But Foster’s original no-vote and Wheeler-Brown’s lack of voting history are enough to pay attention to.

Montanari isn’t likely to side with a deal nor are longtime naysayers Jim Kennedy and Steve Kornell.

But again, with an all new deal likely, this is anyone’s ballgame.

St. Pete City Council takes first step in adopting civil citation program for marijuana offenders

A St. Pete City Council committee unanimously approved taking a closer look at implementing a civil citation program for adult marijuana offenders. The ordinance would likely apply to individuals over the age of 18 caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. State legislation already provides a similar provision for juveniles.

Instead of being charged with a misdemeanor, the offenders would be given a citation. For those who couldn’t afford the ticket, a community service option would also likely be included in the program.

The motion approved Thursday morning directs the city’s legal department to work with the St. Petersburg Police Department to come up with a draft resolution for the Public Services and Infrastructure committee to evaluate.

The draft ordinance will likely include some components discusses during Thursdays meeting. Among those, that an ordinance would be best served countywide. As such, the city will also notify the Pinellas County Commission of its intentions to implement a civil citation program and invite them to work with the city on the initiative.

The idea behind civil citation programs is to reduce the amount of people who wind up with a criminal record for marijuana use. It also addresses huge arrest disparities between African-American males compared to other demographics.

“I’m really poised to support this because it’s been deeply troubling for years,” City Council member Darden Rice said noting that a marijuana arrest should not “be something that affects the trajectory of the rest of your life.”

City Council member Steve Kornell brought up the issue as a new business item. He shared an emotional story about a former student, now a young adult, who called him asking for help after a marijuana arrest. Kornell said the man explained he was held in jail for 12 days and told that if he didn’t give a plea in the case, he would have to stay in jail until his trial. People of more affluent backgrounds in that situation would have had the opportunity to post bond.

“Those are the things we need to avoid,” Kornell said.

Council members made clear the initiative is not intended to send a message to kids that smoking pot is OK. Amy Foster pointed to a Harvard study that shows harmful affects of marijuana use in juveniles and young adults up to the age of 25.

And Rice gave her own emotional plea cautioning against giving kids the wrong message about drug use. She choked up as she reminded her young nephew tragically passed away this year at a party where kids were doing drugs.

A possible ordinance will likely contain provisions for evaluation and/or treatment for drug use. It may also contain a time frame for how long offenders have to either pay a fine or perform community service. Rachel Manzo of the group St. Pete for Justice was particularly pleased to hear council’s support for including a way to allow less affluent offenders avoid a criminal record.

“This isn’t bout making marijuana legal or sending the message that it’s harmless but it is about income inequality and racial disparity,” Manzo said.

She supports implementing a fair and effective civil citation program after having seen the effects minor marijuana infractions can have on a person.

“[One was]they a teacher and lost their teaching license and it becomes this snowball effect,” Manzo said. ” It’s just led to a lot of other things in his life which I think that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for that one event.”

The city will also have to determine whether to make the civil citation program available to only first time offenders or to extend it to those caught with marijuana a second time.

It’s also unclear how the city would work out the logistics of implementing such a program. The St. Pete Police Department recommended a countywide ordinance funded by whatever legislative body approved it and warned against passing an unfunded mandate.

While Council members were largely in favor of implementing something countywide and encouraging neighboring municipalities to do the same, Kornell said the issue is too important to wait for other bodies to jump on board.

“If the county says no, I’m still intending to say yes,” Kornell said.

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