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Latest development in Pier saga may give City Council more power

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council has a whole lot more authority in the Pier selection process than originally thought – and certainly more than the Kriseman administration wants them to have.

It turns out, City Council CAN hijack the selection process. But it’s a little complicated.

Here’s the back story.

In a letter to the Pier Selection Committee, City Council and the mayor last month, St. Pete resident and Pier activist Bill Ballard asserted City Council could reject whatever ranking is put before them regarding a new Pier and kick off its own RFQ process.

His reasoning was that the city now owns the designs submitted during the latest design competition. It was a reasonable assertion, but it was debunked quickly by the city.

As SaintPetersblog reported on March 25, the only choice City Council has is to vote the ranking up or down. In the latest round of pleas to council to “respect the process,” Mayor Rick Kriseman warned that rejecting the ranking would mean the whole process would start over again.

Also reported in March, it wouldn’t. The only way the entire process would start anew would be if the Pier Selection Committee was disbanded, which the city has no intention of doing. Instead, they would have the option of simply coming up with a new ranking.

But, Ballard’s claim didn’t sit idle. In the latest report from Fox 13’s Steve Nichols, City Attorney John Wolfe acknowledged that Ballard’s idea could fly.

Specifically, Ballard said, “Council could adopt whatever resolution or ordinance may be required to select the Destination St. Pete concept as the pier project they wish to have built and to direct the issuance of an RFQ (Request for Qualification) for design services to implement that specific project.”

The original problem with that was simple – City Council can’t direct staff to do much of anything. And there’s precedent here.

When Council unanimously approved a request for the city to look into a survey independently evaluating the Rays’ economic impact, Kriseman’s administration declined. And there wasn’t a thing Council could do to change that.

But the RFQ could be different. While the Rays issue is a divisive one, it has nowhere near the immediate impact the Pier has. When Kriseman rejected an economic impact study, it didn’t directly hinder process with Rays negotiations.

If his administration declined to put out an RFQ for a team to carry out the design and construction of the design of council’s choosing, they would be directly blocking progress.

While Council would still be bound by state law to follow a process that requires minimum qualifications and would still have to rank teams some how, this changes the game immensely, and that’s obvious by the public response from Kriseman’s administration.

Nichols tweeted a series of snippets of his breaking story, including, “switching out #newstpetepier designs would require same state mandated process to hire architects.”

What that means is, council could pick a design and then ask for bids to build it. Conceivably, that could mean the team behind Alma could wind up building Destination St. Pete Pier or vice versa.

Kriseman’s communications director responded to Nichols’ tweet.

“…which would mean starting all over again.”

So too did Kriseman’s chief of staff.

“Whole RFQ process; presentations, public outreach, feedback, rankings, etc. Au Reviour, my friend.”

Sounds like a couple of staffers not too happy with this turn of events.

Prior to this development, City Council wasn’t holding very many cards. The way it was explained to them, the public and reporters was they could vote yes or they could vote no.

And what would that get them? If they voted yes, they could end up with an angry mob of activists itching to launch petition drives. If they voted no, they were told, the whole process starts over.

If this new information is true, and who knows based on the back and forth nuance surrounding this debacle, it gives council a lot more reason to vote no if the selection committee sticks with the public’s least favorite pick – Alma.

It could also put some previous losers back into the mix. Blue Pier. Prospect Pier. Discover Bay Life and rePier could all start jumping back into the game in hopes of wooing City Council.

But it’s all a maybe, because one side of City Hall doesn’t seem to know what the other is doing.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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