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Mike Connors’ emails lack anti-Destination St. Pete Pier banter

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

From erectile dysfunction to belly fat cures, St. Pete Public Works Administrator Mike Connors gets a lot of junk mail.

What he hasn’t gotten are very many emails from people concerned about the Pier.

In a trove of emails from March 9 until the present, there are only a handful of emails from members of the public concerned about what happens with the city’s most iconic waterfront structure.

Even more telling, the head of the Pier selection committee only replied or acknowledged those emails that at least partially supported his own well-known preference – the inverted pyramid must go.

The most recent email came from St. Pete resident Neil Irwin. Irwin suggested the city should be spending more time activating public space.

“Do you think we are investing too much effort in creating an iconic structure, rather than fully exploiting and activating the valuable public space?” Irwin asked.

Irwin referenced a study involving revitalization of the New York City waterfront.

Connors didn’t answer the man’s question, but instead offered to have a look at that study.

Another email from former Lens supporter Shirley O’Sullivan drew Connors’ attention to a letter sent to City Council by St. Pete resident Stephen Urgo and her own letter to the editor in the Tampa Bay Times.

Both individuals are members of the group Build the Pier, formerly Build the Lens. That group has publicly endorsed Destination St. Pete Pier in the latest design process. O’Sullivan and Urgo both pointed out they did not support the St. Pete Design Group’s re-imagining of the inverted pyramid.

In another email from O’Sullivan to Connors she implied support for Alma. Urgo’s letter in the Times supported Alma – Connors’ preferred design – and lambasted anyone who tries to derail the process by pleading for Destination St. Pete Pier.

In her email drawing attention to those letters, O’Sullivan signs it, “keep smiling.”

He responded warmly with, “when Irish eyes are smiling.”

Another email was sent to Connors by Robert MacLeod from the University of South Florida School of Architecture. While he did not necessarily share in Connors’ love affair with Alma, he did support eliminating the inverted pyramid.

“Thank you for the insightful and professional input,” Connors responded. “It is particularly appreciated when attempting to remain considerate of our past and emotion of change with vision and stewardship.

Much of the email correspondence regarding the Pier Process had also been moved to Connors’ email “trash” folder. This included an email from Kristin Brett who was hired by the city to oversee Pier communications.

“Just a quick fyi in case you haven’t already seen today’s Tampa Bay Times. There are several letters to the editor regarding the Pier including one from Scott Wagman,” she wrote on March 26.

Wagman is a former mayoral candidate and respected voice in the community. His letter was in support of Destination St. Pete Pier.

That email was recovered from Connors’ email “trash.”

He did respond to Brett’s email, but not to the information regarding letters to the editor. In that same email Brett also asked for further guidance on how to answer reporters’ questions regarding what additional information would be solicited from the three remaining design teams.

Connors explained that once the questions were sent to the teams they would be public record.

What’s also interesting in email correspondence between Connors and others involved in the Pier process is the careful attention to ensuring the process continues without incident.

In another email from Brett dated March 24, Brett references a Sunday meeting with Mayor Rick Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, the mayor’s Chief of Staff Kevin King, Kriseman’s communication’s director, Ben Kirby, and the city’s communications point person, Robert Danielson.

She lays out a list of suggestions in how to proceed without triggering another petition effort the likes of what the city suffered with the Lens in 2013.

She suggests continuing to educate the public by updating the Pier website with more precise information regarding the three final designs and to encourage citizens to continue to look at what is being considered by the committee. “That way, the public may have a greater understanding of the entire process and, most importantly, the many criteria that are being used for the Selection Committee’s decision.”

She also suggests communicating with “those most likely to rally behind one of the dissenting groups.” She then asks if the city has the list of petitioners during the Lens process or the precincts where most voters opposed the Lens. She continues by saying the city may want to consider a direct mail or robo-call effort directed at those groups.

She also resorts to suggesting an ultimatum of sorts by suggesting getting “the buzz going” in order to let the public know that “if the city’s efforts are thwarted by another community group as with the Lens process … we have again spent thousands of dollars and will be back at square one.”

In addition to the flurry of suggestions from Brett, it is also possible that Connors is not seeing some of the emails; or that he is only seeing those passed along to him.

On March 25, following a citywide email transition, Connors’ secretary, Colleen Mazzo, requested access to Connors’ email.

“Prior to the Outlook transition I had access/proxy to Mike Connors’ emails. I have access to his calendar. He has delegated email access in Outlook to me; however, it is not showing on my page,” she wrote in an email to Richard Layton, a network systems analyst with the city.

That access was approved by Connors and granted by Layton the same day.

Despite some possible questions arising from Connors’ email correspondence – or lack there of – there were some positive emails.

Connors asked extensive questions regarding technical review of each of the three remaining designs, including how many parking spaces would be retained or lost in each design, asking to review all previous design studies going back to before the Lens was defeated and looking into a potential water issue with the Pier Park.

It’s clear through the emails that Connors has not walked back his previously stated preference for Alma, but that he has put significant thought into answering questions brought up by the 12-hour -ong Pier Selection Committee meeting on March 20.

A new meeting to designate the final rankings has been scheduled for April 23.

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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