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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Divestment v. Dividends: St. Petersburg Council debates trade offs



Ideology mixed it up with bread-and-butter politics at St. Petersburg's City Hall on Thursday.

At issue was the city's investment strategy, particularly in the parts of the  Weeki-Wachee and Water Cost Stablization funds that have been invested in the stock market.

That money has been put in stocks in to gain dividend revenue and help offset the cost to the consumer of the city's ever-increasing water rates and pay for parks and recreation projects.

But how does that investment strategy square with calls for the city to divest its portfolio of fossil fuel investments, asked Council member Charlie Gerdes.

The answer? It's hard to say. About $20 million in index funds might contain some oil or coal-related stocks, city financial officials have said. 

And many oil stocks, for example, pay handsome dividends.

In December, Mayor Rick Kriseman joined activist calls for the city to divest its portfolio of fossil fuel-related stocks. And council member Karl Nurse wants to start discussing how to eliminate fossil fuels from the city's portfolio at an April workshop.

But before things start moving too fast, Gerdes said he wants to hear from the city's investment oversight committee, a largely volunteer group that includes council member Jim Kennedy.

Kennedy said the commitee had briefly considered the issue at a recent meeting and wondered if divesting from fossil fuels would lead to divesting from tobacco, fast food or sugar stocks.

That sounds like a "slippery slope," to council member Ed Montanari.

"Today it's oil. Tomorrow it's tobacco," Montanari said during the Budget, Finance and Taxation Commitee meeting. He worries about each council member's pet causes causing the divestment movement to spiral out of control.

Gerdes said he is favorably disposed to divestment, but also worries about undercutting the city's investment strategy to protect water customers and keep the Weeki-Wachee fund strong. 

He asked for the investment oversight committee to issue a formal opinion, if possible, before the April workshop.


[Last modified: Thursday, February 11, 2016 12:07pm]


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