By Mark Puente
Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Not known for his behind-the-scenes dealings, Mayor Bill Foster is playing Monty Hall and trying to strike a deal to save taxpayers' money.
The mayor is guaranteeing that a special election on the fate of the Lens will not take place until Aug. 27, the day of the city's primary. The move would prevent taxpayers from spending $250,000 on a special election.
Foster sent an email Thursday to Bud Risser, one of the leaders of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group working to stop the proposed $50 million Lens from replacing the Pier.
In the email, Foster told Risser the referendum would appear on the Aug. 27 ballot as long as the petitions are turned in after May 13 and that the signatures are verified.
The City Clerk, Foster said, will not validate the more than 15,000 petitions prior to May 30.
"This will assure sufficient staff time to conduct a thorough verification process, and will assure that the Ordinance proposed for voter approval will appear on the August 27, 2013 city-wide ballot," Foster wrote.
Risser and Foster have declared publicly that they do not want taxpayers to pay for a special election.
Once the signatures are verified, a majority vote by the City Council could spike the project.
But the Aug. 27 date could also help Concerned Citizens if the issue goes to a ballot. Voters across the city will vote for the mayor and four City Council races. A high voter turnout could impact the referendum.
The fate of the Lens will bring drama to Thursday's City Council meeting.
The group is scheduled to vote on whether to approve another $1.5 million for Michael Maltzan Architecture, the designer of the Lens. The council delayed the vote two weeks ago until staffers could answer questions about future maintenance costs for the Lens.
Critics don't want the council to authorize the money until after the possible referendum goes before voters.
Mark Puente can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.