Saturday, June 23, 2018
News Roundup

A look at Foster and Kriseman during their City Council days

ST. PETERSBURG — Before they spent tens of thousands of dollars and much of 2013 campaigning against each other, Mayor Bill Foster and former state Rep. Rick Kriseman overlapped for six years on the City Council.

That period, from 2000 to 2006 — all of Kriseman's tenure and most of Foster's — would later be seen as the years of plenty. The real estate market was flourishing, home values were rising, and council members could afford to both lower tax rates and increase or maintain spending levels.

"That was a boom time," said former council member Jay Lasita, who served on the council with both mayoral candidates. Still, "we had pointed disagreements at times."

During those years, the council debated how to retain more police officers, whether to sell 450 acres of wetlands in Hernando County, and whether to cut taxes to their lowest level since 1986, which the council did unanimously in 2006.

As voters prepare to go to the polls on Tuesday, here's a look at some of those moments and the positions that Foster and Kriseman took.

Weeki Wachee Springs

Since 1940, St. Petersburg had owned this wetland in Hernando County with the thought that, one day, it could be used as a water source. But by 1998, for political and financial reasons, pumping groundwater out of Hernando began to look unrealistic.

The stated offered to buy the land for $6.3 million and from the start of discussions, Foster was for the sale, though he thought the state's offer was too low.

"We don't need to own land in Weeki Wachee," he said at the time. "That money could best be spent here."

But with the region's water wars still a recent memory, other council members disagreed, and so Foster backed another approach: asking residents to vote on the sale, the proceeds of which would go to parks and city improvements.

Voters supported the idea, but the question of whether to sell Weeki Wachee sat around until 2001, when the Southwest Florida Water Management District offered to pay the city $14.4 million for it.

Mayor Rick Baker liked the deal, and so did Foster, but Kriseman wasn't sure. He was the swing vote and he seemed to keep swinging. At first he indicated he'd support it, but on the day of the vote, he was one of three to say no.

Then Baker took him aside for a whispered conversation. Kriseman later said the mayor assured him that the land would be deed restricted, barring development. It was the promise he needed to back the sale, which he did, immediately changing his vote.

The mimosa moment

In 2003, the City Council voted to lift a ban on alcohol sales on Sunday morning, a move that met with little public opposition or debate, though it made St. Petersburg the first city in the Tampa Bay area to lift a law of its kind. Known as a "blue law," it was one of many put in place across the country to enforce good (sober) behavior on Sunday.

Kriseman supported the change, which allowed businesses to begin selling alcohol at 11 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. and was seen by its supporters as a modern step in a city where tourists might want to have a mimosa with Sunday brunch.

Foster opposed the measure, one of two council members to do so.

"I can't imagine the Vinoy starting a marketing campaign saying, 'Oh, you should stay here instead of the beaches because you can buy beer before 1 p.m.,' " he said at the time.

Police car perks

In this instance in 2003, Foster and Kriseman agreed: The city's Police Department had been struggling to retain officers and needed to do something to make itself a more attractive place to work. Police Chief Chuck Harmon proposed several ideas, including relaxing the take-home car policy so that officers who lived out of the city, but within Pinellas County, could be given cruisers.

At first, the council appeared to be split 4-4. Some thought that the new squad cars were a waste of money; others thought it was necessary to keep up with other departments that already offered take-home cars. Both mayoral candidates took the latter position.

"The council has steadfastly maintained that we will always find the money to ensure our police and our fire are the best trained and the best equipped," Kriseman said.

Said Foster: "Public safety is the No. 1 priority when you consider overall quality of life."

Human rights ordinance

St. Petersburg became one of only six cities in the state in 2002 to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, a move the council passed 6-2.

Foster and Kriseman stood on opposite sides of the issue. Foster, whose socially conservative and religious views are well known, vocally opposed the measure, which protected gay men and lesbians from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations because of their sexual orientation.

At the time, Foster said he thought homosexuality was a lifestyle choice that didn't require legal protection from the city.

Kriseman supported the measure.

Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this story. Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

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