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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Two Sept. 23 St. Petersburg candidate debates to merge

10

September

Two St. Petersburg groups organizing debates for Sept. 23 apparently double-booked Lakewood High School. The campaigns RSVP'd to both, thinking there was only one event, when there were actually two. The solution: the groups will merge the debates.

We'll let one of the events' organizers, Chris Kelly, explain:

Lakewood High School has two auditoriums, a larger 700+ seat facility and a smaller one in the Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) portion of the campus. Social studies teacher Sean O'Flannery booked the CAT auditorium for Sept. 23, to hold his program's election year student-led forum. After the primary election earlier this month, he started inviting candidates to participate, from each of the five council and the mayoral races.

In March of this year, the coalition of neighborhood associations known as SPAN decided to put together a single forum focused on the mayoral and District 5 and 6 races, deliberately excluding the other three races to focus on issues of interest to the part of the city south of Lake Maggiore. Lakewood Estates NA president Judy Ellis booked the Lakewood High School auditorium and notified all the respective candidates of the event. Which was scheduled for ... Sept. 23.

As O'Flannery began notifying candidates and campaigns, respondents affirmed that they were, indeed, scheduled for the forum at Lakewood for that date.

It was only when the Corsetti campaign posted on Bay Buzz that they weren't mentioned in SPAN's press release that the potential conflict was noticed. Judy Ellis knew Corsetti wasn't invited to her event, his campaign manager knew that they were invited to Lakewood High School for that evening - by  O'Flannery.

O'Flannery's students were planning to moderate their event and had RSVPs from several of the candidates; Ray Arsenault agreed to host SPAN's event which had commitments from six candidates.

After an hourlong session with Lakewood High School administrators, O'Flannery, Ellis and Chris Kelly from the Greater Pinellas Point neighborhood association, details of a resolution emerged this morning.

The events will now be combined, with students and professor Arsenault working together as moderators. Mayoral, Council 5 and 6 candidates will participate in directed questioning during the forum, all campaigns are invited to outreach during the social time and to set up a literature table in the courtyard entrance to the auditorium.

Kelly said, "Faced with a chance to work alongside our high school and the students, we realized that the scheduling issue wasn't a problem but an opportunity." O'Flannery said he will share the details of the model with a colleague at Northeast High School, encouraging her to work with the neighborhoods around that school to mount a similar forum for Districts 2, 4 and 8. Students will videotape the event, posting pertinent exchanges on YouTube and attendance will be larger than if the respective organizations held separate events.

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[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:07pm]

    

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