Friday, January 19, 2018
News Roundup

Mayor Bill Foster wants to give voters options on Lens vote

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster wants to give voters options in case a possible referendum halts the proposed Lens in the August election.

In a memo released late Friday, Foster asked the City Council to consider passing an ordinance that would include three possible nonbinding straw-poll questions to decide what would replace the inverted pyramid after it is demolished later this year.

Possible questions voters would answer include whether the city should:

• Build a replacement municipal pier and honor the 100-year-old tradition of having a publicly funded pier open to the public.

• Privatize what is now a public municipal Pier through a 99-year long-term lease through a private company.

• Build a flat wooden fishing pier with only basic amenities.

The council members received news of Foster's proposal Friday evening. Councilwoman Leslie Curran didn't have time to study the plan, but she favors the discussion.

"I think it's something we ought to do," said Curran, a Lens supporter. "We need to be prepared for what comes before us."

City Council Chairman Karl Nurse, who opposes the Lens, said odds are high that voters will defeat the Lens in August. While he had not seen Foster's proposal Friday night, Nurse wants to get a sense from voters on what they want to replace the Pier.

"It's a good idea," he said. "It would allow us to have a clear vision going forward."

Foster said these ideas had been raised from people speaking at open forums at the last few council meetings.

"I am sure there will be lots of discussion," he said. "If we're going to put questions on a ballot, then lets have a referendum."

The last-minute wrangling comes after Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg recently submitted more than 20,000 petitions to the city to possibly stop the construction of the Lens. The signatures are in the process of being validated.

The City Council will have its first opportunity to discuss the proposal Thursday afternoon during its agenda-review session. The group would then vote on the proposal June 6 during its public meeting.

The group can't waste time. The language on the Aug. 27 ballot must be submitted to the Pinellas supervisor of elections by June 28.

In a memo sent to the council on Friday, City Attorney John Wolfe wrote: "I would suggest that all three ordinances be read on the first reading on June 6 with the public hearing to be set for June 20."

He told them they could "place none, all or some of these questions on the ballot. … The decision is purely up to the City Council and these are merely suggested topics" received from the Foster administration.

Lens supporters have criticized Concerned Citizens for not giving voters another option in case the Lens is derailed.

Wolfe also gave the council two other possible ordinances in case the petitions are certified. He told the council they can simply pass the ordinance to halt the Lens or pass another ordinance to put it on the ballot for voters to decide.

He is also asking the group to consider putting an ordinance on the ballot for curbside recycling, a topic that generates much discussion in the city.

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