ST. PETERSBURG — On one side of a table sat Mayor Bill Foster and City Council members.
Officials listened for more than two hours Wednesday evening as audience members in a crowd of nearly 200 took turns at the podium. At issue was the city's 2014 budget.
Community leaders and some politicians, including state Rep. Darryl Rouson and mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman, took to the microphone at the Enoch Davis Center to plug "reinvestment."
So did many residents who said they were out of work or underemployed. Representatives of the Edge and Grand Central districts argued for funds, as did arts groups.
Speakers who made a case for training young people for jobs or lamented stagnant wages for city workers drew applause and cheers.
Robert Kwasny, a specialty equipment mechanic for 21 years, said he and city co-workers had not gotten a raise in "six or seven years."
"We are fleet maintenance for all the departments that keep the city looking, running and feeling good," said Kwasny, 52. "Yet so many of these departments are neglected."
Lisa Wheeler-Brown, president of Wildwood Neighborhood Association, had come to argue for more youth programs, not city worker raises.
"That wasn't something I was paying attention to," said Wheeler-Brown, 44. "But to know that someone hasn't had a raise in five or six years, and management is still making money, that's a problem."
In September, Foster said he had hoped to boost employee salaries in the 2014 budget.
Among others focusing on young people was the Rev. Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church. "It's a sad commentary when drugs are the biggest employer on the south side of St. Petersburg," Sykes said. "That's not going to change solely by law enforcement and imprisonment."
Many speakers, including Rouson, promoted the Agenda 2020 Coalition, which hopes to reduce poverty in south St. Petersburg by 30 percent.