Judge: Come up with ballot language for Pier vote

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Circuit Judge Amy Williams ruled the city of Saint Petersburg and Kathleen Ford, representing the VoteOnThePier petitioners, have to meet with a mediator within 60 days to come up with ballot language for a vote on the future of the Pier, reports William Mansell of Patch.

“Why don’t we just do it? Let’s get together and lets do it,” Williams said. She said they need to meet soon so that a vote could happen as soon as the March election.

“It just seems like we can all agree here,” Williams said.

Williams also ruled that Ford had to re-file the suit by Dec. 12 naming all the people who signed the petition. She said she could not dismiss the case on the ground that the petitions did not have cause.

“I can’t determine at this point in time if something is true or not true,” Williams said.

Ford said she is hopeful the mediation will lead to a public vote on the future of the St. Petersburg Pier.

“We look forward to working with the city attorneys on (a) proposal for ballot language that we can all agree on rather than going forward with (litigation),” Ford said. “I think the court was certainly directing the parties to come up with ballot language. That’s how in interpreted that order. That is what the mediation would be about.”

Attorney Joe Patner, who was representing the city of St. Pete, argued that the case should be dismissed because the city has the right to rebuild the pier because nothing in the charter prohibits them from doing so.

Having the pier located within the CRA district allows the city to bond out the money for the pier without holding a public vote.

“If we get into this governance by referendum, it creates paralysis,” Patner said. While his motion for dismissal was denied he argued that nothing in the charter allows for a public vote on a capital project within the CRA/TIF district.

Patner also argued that the petitioners did not form a legal group, entity or corporation. Therefore, he said Ford had not standing to sue on behalf of them.

Where there was the most disagreement Wednesday was on Patner’s and the city’ position that the city was “ready, willing and able” to hold a vote on the pier.

“I did not get that perception that the city was ready, willing, and able (to put in on the ballot), because if they were ready, willing, and able, there would have been a ballot,” Ford said.

Patner said the city was willing but the petitions were unclear with what they wanted.

Williams disagreed with that assessment. “That’s really what this petition wants,” she said.

The city and Ford will have 60 days to meet with a mediator on the issue. Ford will have to re-file the case with the names of the petitions. Also, the words “city council” and “CRA” were removed from the suit.

Ford original filed suit on Aug. 22 on behalf of the 15,652 people who signed petitions to force a vote on the pier.

Thursday, city council will be voting on approval of the “basis of design” report of the “Lens”. That action would allocate $5.4 million for Michael Maltzan Architecture and Skanska USA Builders to continue the pre-construction process. The updated “Lens” design was presented to council on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t sound prudent to me to go forward with the lens design,” Ford told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing. “This council has wasted money in the past. I’m hopeful they would take a pause on how we should best spend citizens money.”

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.