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St. Pete to discuss bringing sunshine, more public input to CRA grants



The St. Petersburg City Council wants to make sure more public input and transparency is involved before more taxpayer dollars are spent from the city’s newly-formed South St. Petersburg Community Renewal Area.

And Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office is on board.

On Thursday, the council unanimously voted to advance ideas by council members Darden Rice and Ed Montanari to develop more citizen input and transparency into CRA procedures.

Since Kriseman announced about $319,000 in tax-incremenet finance district grants for business owners to improve their buildings’ exteriors on Aug. 11,  some residents and several leaders in the predominantly black neighborhoods which comprise most of the CRA have criticized the selection process.

And  a $531 grant that went to the Pinellas County Democratic Party for landscaping sparked public outcry.The party later said it wouldn't accept the grant.

“It’s been a rough week,” said council member Steve Kornell.

The fact that more than ⅓ of the 32 grants went to businesses in the Kenwood and Grand Central neighborhoods has also been criticized by some.

The CRA’s mission needs to be better communicated, Montanari said..

“I’m not sure the goals were clear and they need to be clarified,” he said.

Rice said more eyes on where the money goes and more people involved in the decision-making process will help avoid future stumbles.

“When you  have a group that is completely similar with the same blind spots, you end up unfortunately  creating unnecessary distractions over $500 in landscaping,” Rice said.

Tomalin said a citizen advisory committee reviewed the grants, but didn’t argue that a city staff committee and Kriseman’s office picked the winners.

Two weeks ago, the council approved the grant funding with only Montanari opposed.

Kriseman supports greater transparency and more citizen participation, Tomalin said.

“I really want to make a point that we share that goal,” Tomalin said. “We can make everything stronger.”

The council will discuss specific tweaks at a Committee of the Whole, a committee meeting  with all eight members present at a later date.

[Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2016 7:55pm]


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