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Bill Foster's Midtown plan has good ideas, poor execution

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster listens to Gov. Rick Scott talk about the Biggert-Waters Act at a press conference held by Scott and several area leaders on Oct. 1 outside the Pinellas Association of Realtors.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster listens to Gov. Rick Scott talk about the Biggert-Waters Act at a press conference held by Scott and several area leaders on Oct. 1 outside the Pinellas Association of Realtors.

So the mayor of St. Petersburg recently made big news.

He declared he was creating a high-level position in city government to concentrate on economic development in Midtown, and he vowed to form a citizen panel to look into police policies in surrounding neighborhoods.

This led to a couple of interesting reactions:

1. People seemed to enthusiastically agree with the mayor's proposals.

2. Some of those same people seemed very annoyed with how he did it.

And this, in a nutshell, is St. Pete's mayor.

Even when you agree with Bill Foster, he makes it difficult for you to like him.

"It does epitomize his struggles in building a coalition, building a majority of voices on issues," said City Council Chairman Karl Nurse. "Thirty days ago, four council members proposed amendments to do something like this in one fashion or another, and they were completely dismissed. And then he comes up with this out of thin air.

"Unfortunately, this is typical of how things are done."

Look, it's fair to say no politician is perfect. No matter how well-intentioned a person might be, there will always be mistakes when it comes to big decisions.

So it's okay to occasionally cut them slack on actual policies. What cannot be so easily forgiven is the absence of trust or transparency.

And, too often, that seems to be a problem around here.

Nurse's council district incorporates much of the Midtown area, and he spends a good deal of his time looking for developers and plotting strategies to invigorate the area.

Yet the mayor's office didn't seek his input. Even worse, Nurse wasn't even informed that the mayor was making an announcement. After getting calls from a reporter about it Tuesday morning, he had to go to the city's website to read the news release.

The story was similar with the citizen panel. Police Chief Chuck Harmon was not consulted about his thoughts for creating a new committee, and he got a heads-up only a couple of hours ahead of the news release.

The timing of the mayor's epiphany is another issue.

For several months, he has stood next to Rick Kriseman at debates and listened to his opponent criticize him for never hiring anyone to concentrate on Midtown issues. The mayor also finished a city budget and never made a push to allocate money for Midtown.

Yet now, three weeks after the budget kicked in and two weeks before the election, he suddenly has a plan? Not to mention a new Midtown campaign office opened this week.

"It is so transparent, I wouldn't think it would fool many people,'' said Nurse, who is supporting Kriseman. "I'm baffled by the shallowness of it all."

The crazy thing is, if he handled it the right way, this could have been a shining moment for the mayor. He could have sought the help of the same council members he has bumped heads with, and presented a united front.

He could have stood up at his news conference and acknowledged it was his mistake to have gone so long without a point person for Midtown economic development, but he would do everything possible to correct that miscalculation going forward.

Unfortunately, the mayor did none of that.

He took an issue that is critical to the lives of too many people in need in Midtown, and he made it look like a self-serving stunt.

In the end, he had an opportunity to look like a real leader and instead chose to behave like a true politician.

Bill Foster's Midtown plan has good ideas, poor execution 10/23/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 8:32pm]
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