After reporting Tuesday evening the window to place a petition-based referendum on the November ballot had passed, supporters of the effort were quick to take to social media pointing out their efforts are not dead.
Tom Lambdon, head of the group Vote on the Pier and Preserve our Waterfront, said he’s continuing to gather petition signatures to place a referendum before voters asking whether or not construction and demolition on downtown waterfront property should be voted on at the ballot box.
“We never said it was for the November election,” Lambdon said, calling claims that the deadline meant the window had closed “reckless and irresponsible.”
Instead, Lambdon said he is working to gather 16,000 signatures to have verified by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. From there, City Council would be charged with deciding whether or not to schedule a special election for the referendum.
Lambdon is filing election documents with the City Clerk showing fundraising totals of about $48,000. However, the same report also shows nearly all of that money has been spent. That’s because it represents fundraising from the previous petition drive in which Lambdon attempted to get a referendum on the ballot to kill the Lens.
Now Lambdon says he plans to raise another $38,000 to fund a mass mailing, including the petition and pre-postaged envelopes for voters to return. He wouldn’t divulge how many petitions had already been completed, but said the number is where he’d like it to be at this point.
Once money is raised, and Lambdon said he has already secured financial commitments from some supporters, he anticipates five or six weeks to get the required signatures to the Supervisor of Elections.
Lambdon isn’t concerned about City Council approval of a special election because he has vetted both the ballot language and description through several attorneys to ensure it passes legal muster. A previous effort to shut down the Lens design was squashed by a judge when the city challenged the validity of ballot language.
“I know that the ballot language and the description is perfect this time,” Lambdon said. “I’ve already litigated this.”
It’s unclear through both the City Charter and state statute how much leeway City Council members would have in determining whether to schedule a special election.
According to the state statute, “the governing body of the municipality shall place the proposed amendment contained in the ordinance or petition to a vote of the electors at the next general election held within the municipality or at a special election called for such purpose.”
The City Charter addresses both special elections and referendums, but makes no reference to how City Council should decide to schedule a special election for a referendum forced by voter petition.
Lambdon claims Council will have no reason to oppose the special election, but the city is reluctant to speculate how that scenario would play out.
“At this point, we are not in receipt of any signatures and cannot speculate on any future special elections,” Mayor Rick Kriseman’s director of communications, Ben Kirby, wrote in a statement.
Kirby estimates a special election could cost as much as $260,000. However, the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson, Jason Latimer, said the cost would depend on how the special election was orchestrated.
And there’s also the issue of other elections. The Presidential Preference Primary is next March and Lambdon’s referendum could theoretically get put on that ballot. That could be good news for Lambdon and his supporters because turnout will likely be higher with presidential contenders on the ballot.
The petition effort does nothing to save the existing Pier. Demolition on that began this week and a corner of the building has already been reduced to rubble. However, Lambdon said he believes the issue could still give voters the ability to kill the contract with designers to build Pier Park — exactly what happened with the Lens in 2013.
“The voters will have the final say on any pier out there and it’s likely they will shut down Pier Park,” he said.
News of the deadline for the November 3 election came from Kirby. Lambdon is worried Kirby shared information he shouldn’t have. He referenced a Florida state statute that prohibits an “officer or employee of the state, or of any county or municipality” from using “his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election.”
The information was sent to SaintPetersblog following a previous report about demolition beginning on the Pier. In that report the petition drive was mentioned as being alive and well.
Kirby pointed out that the deadline to put the issue on the November ballot had passed. The information he shared was also a matter of public record.
Now Lambdon is worried the speculation could be damaging to his campaign.
“Ben Kirby – NOR the current temporary Mayor – had ANY right in making ANY comments regarding our Petition,” Lambdon wrote in an email.
He said he and other supporters are working to ensure Kriseman is a one-term mayor. His arguments, echoed by others who wanted to save the inverted pyramid, include allegations that Kriseman had intentionally misled the public to garner support for Pier Park and that he intended to demolish the Pier the whole time.
He refers back to the design selection process in which a public survey showed overwhelming support for Destination St. Pete Pier that would have reused most of the existing Pier.
Lambdon calls it a $20 million mistake because that’s how much he says the Pier is worth.