Bill Foster: Mayor Flip Flop

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Six months into his first  term as Mayor of St. Petersburg, Bill Foster’s tenure has been defined by a series of policy reversals by the Mayor, who, on issue after issue, inexplicably begins the public discussion of these issues with the announcement of an untenable position only to change his mind later on..

On matters small and large, from the firing of park rangers at Boyd Hill Nature Trail to the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, Foster’s time in office leads this writer, a supporter of Foster in the last election, to come to only one conclusion.  That the city is being led by…

Mayor Flip Flop.

There at least three major issues in which Bill Foster has reversed himself from an earlier position. Fortunately, Foster often ends up making the “right” decision, but it’s a wonder why he traveled along such a circuitous path when he could have arrived at the same decision straight away.  Consider.

On Feb. 4, it’s  reported that:

The park’s five full-time ranger jobs will be slashed, replaced with three part-time positions and a supervisor post. The park’s 245 acres of pine flat woods and willow marsh on the shores of Lake Maggiore also will have its hours of operation cut.

Bill Foster is quoted as saying:

“I’m not going to sit here and say people won’t see it and feel it and people won’t lose their jobs,” Foster said. “It’s going to be difficult. I can’t sugarcoat it.”

And, what has become typical fashion, Foster offered a cringe-worthy quote:

“About the process — I screwed up,” Foster said. “I am so concerned about this $14 million dollar debt that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

But only two weeks later, the “city says Boyd Hill Nature Park programs remain unchanged.”

Not a full flip-flop, but the groundwork was laid for a process in which Foster would, almost bravely, make a hard political decision, then quickly back away from it.

Or as the next example indicates, Foster likes to dive in to a situation, only to jump right of the pool.

On May 8, Foster announced he’s planning to close four of nine city pools in an effort to save roughly $1.5 million, the annual cost to run them.

“Our numbers are down,” Foster said. “I want to keep these quality of life features that people actually use and these neighborhood pools aren’t getting the best use.”

But after a backlash from the public, Foster quickly lifted his toes he had been dipping into the water.

Foster says after listening to residents, he’s decided to keep all city pools open. “The pool issue was resolved by some rate increases, letting everybody in the city feel the pain and to make some other cuts to really close the gap,”

So why not just implement the rate increases and make the other cuts, Mayor Foster. Why put the city through a two-week hand-wringing?

(And you just have to love the irony of Foster, not less than a month after threatening to close four of the city’s pools, visiting Jennie Hall Pool to promote programs and usage.

At this point, the flops were starting to really flip.

Next issue up for Foster was what to do with The Pier.  In all honesty, there are no good, safe answers as to what to do with the city’s iconic boondoggle, so Foster adopted the most conservative, least-liked proposal, a $42 million pier BUILT ON LAND.

“The elephant in the room is that we can’t afford (to keep it where it is),” said Foster. “The only one we could build is (the one on land). Or nothing at all.”

But by the end of the meeting, Foster said he changed his mind. He still doesn’t support an option of keeping it where it is, but would support a new Pier off shore with a smaller approach.

It takes a very special kind of politician to brazenly flip-flop on an issue (see: Crist, Charlie), but to flip-flop on a multi-million dollar issue within the course of a single meeting. Oh man, that’s something special.

How do you out flop Foster’s flip on The Pier?

Only by drawing a line in the sand by insisting the Tampa Bay Rays’ new stadium has to be built within the city limits of St. Petersburg…

Only to completely reverse course less than a month later by proposing changes to the city’s contract with the Tampa Bay Rays that would allow the club, for the first time, to explore alternate sites to downtown’s Tropicana Field.

Foster said the amended agreement would permit the Rays to consider a stadium anywhere in St. Petersburg and the “greater Gateway area,” which would include land outside city limits.

Of course, Foster was insistent, just down-right adamant, that no further concessions were going to be made:

“We’re either going to do this right or we’re going to sit down and shut up until 2027.”

And by how often Foster flip-flops on issues, he doesn’t mean the year 2027, he was just referring to the military time of 8:27 p.m.

In fact, by the time I am done writing this, I am sure Mayor Flip Flop will have reversed course on yet another policy.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.