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Rick Kriseman sends conflicting messages on the Pier

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will urge City Council to stick to the process regarding slow-moving plans to choose a design for a new Pier.

In the report, Kriseman’s director of communications, Ben Kirby, tells the Times “Kriseman will remind council members of the inclusive process he established, emphasizing the public input that began with the pier working group that established what citizens want at the attraction.”

In other words, what public survey?

Kriseman has been very quick to point out that the recent delay in choosing a design shows the process is working. The Pier Selection Committee Kriseman convened failed to deliver its final ranking during a meeting last month after being ambushed by an angry public over the committee’s apparent favoring of the Alma design and not the public’s top-rated Destination St. Pete Pier.

He pointed this out in an email to the public in which he linked to his op-ed in the Times.

“I encourage our community to remain engaged with this issue and listen closely to the selection committee’s counsel and reasoning behind its final rankings, understanding that their collective expertise and experience is impressive and politically objective,” he wrote in the Times.

It’s not like many of the 10,000 plus residents who participated in the city’s public survey could possibly be architects or engineers or historical preservationists. Hogwash.

Then in the email he reminded members of the public to voice their opinions, concerns and preferences to City Council.

Which is it? And why bother?

City Council’s sole role in this whole process is to vote up or down what the Pier Selection Committee puts before them as its top ranking. That’s it. They can’t listen to the public and use that input to sway the committee. They can’t offer their own choice. Yes or no. That’s all they get.

And now Kriseman is going to tell City Council to respect the process too. He wants them to keep in mind that there was another opportunity for public input and not just the public survey.

He’s going to tell them, basically, just agree with the committee and move on.

Kriseman says, through his talking head, that agreeing with the selection committee isn’t a slight to the public because the committee should (not will) have sound reasoning to choose whatever design tops its list.

But he also tells them to keep giving input. Sounds more like smoke and mirrors to, in one breath, ask a constituency to just deal with it and then in another to keep reaching out.

And Kriseman himself won’t even voice his own preference. If the selection committee is leaning toward Alma, and as of March 20 it clearly was, then Kriseman’s insistence that the committee should be trusted could be an indicator.

Kriseman has also said all along that he’s not the biggest fan of preserving the inverted pyramid – precisely what the public’s top-pick does.

And he does, indeed, have a preference. In data collected from the city listing which residents voted in the city’s survey and which didn’t, both Kriseman and his wife did. What that data doesn’t tell is how they voted.

If Kriseman didn’t want to pick favorites and if he was unwilling to disclose his own preference, he should not have voted at all.

He could have taken a page out of City Council’s book on that one. Of the eight-member board, only council member Darden Rice voted in the Pier survey. City data only includes whether people voted. It does not disclose how they voted.

Though City Council holds very little power in this process in terms of how they can sway the choice, they do hold a key trump card.

If City Council chooses to support the Pier Selection Committee should they continue the Alma trajectory, a potential backlash could be looming.

Support for Destination St. Pete Pier includes both Concerned Citizens – the group behind the fateful Lens defeat – and Build the Pier – the group behind the Lens supporters. That means a lot of grassroots and buying power behind one design.

If the group responsible for overwhelmingly defeating the city’s previous chosen design has joined forces with its opposition in unity for one design, it seems reasonable to assume the two sides would collude for a similar defeat of any design that is not Destination St. Pete Pier.

There could be some common ground if the Selection Committee chooses a design in the public’s top three, but Alma is simply not it.

Like Alma or not, love it to pieces all day long, it would be a disastrous choice for the city unless they want to see another process unraveled.

UPDATE: Following this report, City Council member Darden Rice informed SaintPetersblog that she did vote in the city survey despite the fact that the city’s data listed she did not. SaintPetersblog is researching the discrepancies in the city’s data.

A previous version of this report stated that council member Bill Dudley voted in the city’s survey. He tells SaintPetersblog that he did not vote and the “William Dudley” listed as having voted was actually his son. The two share the same name and there is no differentiation between Jr. and Sr. on the city’s data.

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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