Bill Foster faces sharp criticism from neighborhoods association leader

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A mayor’s debate sponsored by the Council of Neighborhood Associations briefly turned into a sharp exchange between Mayor Bill Foster and moderator Kurt Donley.

Donley, CONA’s president, seemed to focus more on Foster than challenger Rick Kriseman in a series of questions at the start of the forum, billed as a “frank discussion” with the mayoral candidates.

After asking both candidates for their views on CONA and its role in the city, Donley demanded to know from Foster why code enforcement staff no longer attend his group’s meetings. He indicated that at CONA meetings, code enforcement can learn firsthand about nuisance properties and other pressing issues.

Donley also asked why compliance officers must carry about 300 cases, which is far greater than other municipalities he surveyed. He indicated that since officers lost car allowances, it is difficult for them to make early morning meetings. He also argued that the Foster administration needed to be more engaged with the city’s neighborhoods.

While Foster did not offer direct responses to CONA’s president, he did counter that CONA also was a no-show at quarterly meetings with the mayor.

Relations have been strained between Foster and CONA since the mayor consolidated the City Hall department that provided assistance to neighborhood associations and slashed the neighborhood assistance grants in fiscal 2013 from $250,000 to zero. The Council restored most of the funds to the grants program for fiscal 2014.

Foster questioned assertions that the neighborhood associations have been weakened by budget cuts, naming a number of neighborhood groups that are robust and vital, including Shore Acres, Broadwater, Snell Isle and Historic Kenwood.

The mayoral forum was held at the city’s Sunshine Center and co-sponsored by the local chapter of the NAACP. About 35 people turned out for the event.