Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

Ford offers petitioners waiver to St. Petersburg Pier lawsuit

ST. PETERSBURG — Former City Council member Kathleen Ford has shifted tactics in her suit against the city that has enveloped more than 15,000 petitioners seeking a vote on the fate of the city's Pier.

The suit distressed numerous signers who learned of the legal entanglement after the fact, some from a postcard stating that they must be a part of the lawsuit either as a plaintiff or a defendant.

After an article ran in the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, several people called to say the only reason they signed the petition was to have a say on the Pier, not to be involved in a lawsuit.

Ford, who did not return a telephone call or email seeking comment, is now offering at least some petitioners "a waiver of interest in lawsuit and agreement to be bound by final court decision."

But Michael P. Allen, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, does not think the new document, dated Jan. 5, will automatically solve the problem.

"Ms. Ford seems to, through the waiver, be trying to say, if you sign this, then you don't need to be a party. I don't think that can be squared with the judge's order," he said, referring to a December ruling by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Amy Williams that said each of the more than 15,000 petitioners is a necessary party to the case.

Ford's suit is just one snarl in an escalating quarrel about the city's decision to demolish the inverted pyramid, built in 1973, that serves as the city's Pier and replace it with a controversial $50 million project called the Lens.

This week, City Council member Wengay Newton, a staunch opponent of the project, accused city attorneys of kicking him out of a closed attorney-client session with other council members about the lawsuit. He also accused the city of targeting city employees who signed the petition. The mayor and city attorneys deny the accusations.

Ford filed her lawsuit last August, seeking to force the city to hold a referendum to amend its charter so as to "preserve and refurbish" the current Pier. The suit also seeks a temporary injunction to halt demolition of the structure pending the court's ruling and outcome of a vote.

She filed the suit days after City Council members declined to put the issue on the November ballot, despite an effort by the group voteonthepier.com that drew 15,652 certified petitioners.

In December, Williams ordered the case to mediation. The city, which has since said the suit was brought on behalf of people not seeking to be part of the legal action, wants it dismissed. It also is asking that the Jan. 18 mediation be postponed. That motion is scheduled to be heard Monday before Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Day.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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