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Politics put BP settlement money discussions on hold in Clearwater

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Clearwater City Council and mayoral re-election races are holding up progress on how to spend $6.4 million in BP settlement money even though the it has been available since July. The council will hold off at least four months on determining what to do with the cash.

At issue are re-election campaigns for Mayor George Cretekos and City Council members Doreen Hock DiPolito and Jay Polgaze who are all appearing on the March ballot.

During a meeting Nov. 5, City Councilman Bill Jonson talked about possible uses for the money, but was quickly hushed, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“If I were to say ‘Let’s spend $6 million of the BP money on project X,’ somebody is going to say ‘Mayor Cretekos is doing that because he’s running for re-election,’ ” Cretekos reportedly said in response to Jonson’s list.

The tone is a detraction from what has been happening in other cities awarded BP settlement funds. St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman quickly recommended several uses for the $6.5 million that was awarded, including repairs to the city’s wastewater system, a bike share program, and an arts endowment, among others.

City Council discussed the recommendation during a meeting even though two City Council members were up for re-election earlier this month.

The difference, according to DiPolito during the Clearwater City Council meeting earlier this month, is that St. Pete runs a strong mayor form of government rather than Clearwater’s city manager form. Discussing the funding uses could be perceived as a stump speech, she said.

“I don’t think it’s fair to all five of us for any part of the election process to be discussing what we should be doing right now with a bucket list as it relates to BP,” DiPolito said at the Nov. 5 meeting, according to the Times.

Jonson isn’t backing down despite City Council approval to table the issue until after the March election. He filed an agenda item to be heard later this month to evaluate City Council priorities, noting city business should not be put on hold just because there is a looming election.

BP settlement fund uses have also been brought up in Dunedin where $3.9 million is on the table and in Tampa where $20 million was awarded.

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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