Tuesday, May 22, 2018
News Roundup

John Romano: City Council's handling of Pier vote is why we're here today

The lawsuit to save the Pier began Wednesday with a disclaimer, of sorts.

Circuit Judge Jack Day made it clear he was not there to listen to policy arguments. He wasn't grading politicians or ruling on the proper way to run a city government.

It was his job to view it merely as a legal argument.

This announcement was entirely appropriate, if not a little disheartening.

For, really, the entire matter feels like a pseudo-referendum on how the City Council handled the call to raze the Pier nearly three years ago.

And just for clarification's sake, I've never been emotionally attached to this debate. I think tearing down the Pier is definitely the correct decision but, at the same time, the proposed Lens project doesn't leave me humming Jimmy Buffett tunes.

I also understand that no design will ever enjoy universal acceptance. If we could acquire the Statue of Liberty in a trade for the Pier and a landmark to be named later, there would still be people squawking about Lady Liberty's bad paint job.

So, yes, there were going to be sore losers no matter how this shook out.

To me, the larger issue is whether St. Pete residents were given enough of a voice in a fairly historic decision.

And I'm just not sure they were.

To say residents had plenty of time to offer input has some revisionist history to it. It's true the task force to study the future of the Pier was formed in the spring of 2009, and the decision to demolish it didn't come until late the following summer.

But there are a couple of details that get left out of that sequence.

Almost a year into the process, the chairman of the task force acknowledged that 70 percent of the residents they heard from wanted to keep some form of the inverted pyramid. That's a pretty substantial number to ignore.

And while the process dragged on for a long time, the actual decision was made abruptly and virtually without notice.

The first real indication the Pier was actually coming down was a 5-3 straw vote during a council workshop. In the aftermath of that informal poll, nearly 80 percent of the people who contacted City Hall were opposed to the decision.

Eight days later — with a published agenda that merely suggested a "Pier update" would be discussed — the council suddenly voted to tear it down. Several council members argued to delay the vote until a public hearing could be held, but they were blown off.

It logically left the impression that some people on the council were rushing to pull the trigger before opposition could be mobilized.

And that's why we're still arguing today.

To be honest, I'm not at all comfortable supporting the Stop the Lens crowd. Too much of their shtick feels politically motivated. And their arguments to save the Pier completely ignore how the structure has become unstable, expensive and increasingly irrelevant as an attraction.

But for some reason, the City Council did not want to have that debate in public in 2010. So, here we are in 2013, waiting to hear a judge's decision on arcane legal precedents.

At this point, it's silly, wasteful and counterproductive to still be having this argument.

And yet it is exactly what the City Council deserves.

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