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A closer look at the St. Petersburg mayoral candidates' council records

ST. PETERSBURG — Before the monthslong campaign of 2009, the paths of mayoral candidates Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster intersected for almost three years as members of St. Petersburg's City Council.

The two served together from August 1998 until March 2001, wrestling with a bailout for the Florida International Museum, city budgets and a possible management review of the Police Department.

As voters prepare to go to the polls Tuesday to select one of them as the city's next mayor, we decided to look back at those 32 months that Foster and Ford served together, to see where the two agreed and disagreed.

Bayfront Medical Center and Catholic doctrine: The St. Petersburg hospital became a center of contention for the City Council in 1999, when members learned that the hospital had curtailed abortions because of an affiliation with Catholic-run hospitals.

Here's the backstory: Bayfront sits on city-owned property and was leased to the hospital. In 1997, Bayfront merged into the BayCare Health System, which has Catholic partners.

In March 2000, the City Council sued Bayfront on grounds the Catholic influence breached the separation of church and state. A coalition of women's and civil rights groups sued, too.

Then, the council refused to sell Bayfront its land to end the church-state conflict, and Bayfront announced it would leave BayCare.

Even so, the city refused to drop its lawsuit because, its attorneys and some council members said, it felt it had no legal assurance that Bayfront would remain free of Catholic influence.

The lawsuit was settled when Bayfront agreed to be free of all religious influence.

What positions did Ford and Foster take?

Both Ford and Foster voted to authorize the lawsuit against Bayfront. At the time, Foster said: "We don't want to hurt the hospital, but we've got to get the (religious doctrine) out of there. If they're ever going to comply with the city's demands of renouncing Catholic control, they're going to do it now."

Both also rejected a plan to sell the land to the hospital.

But Foster later proposed a citizen referendum on whether the city should sell the land.

That idea failed on a split 4-4 vote. Ford voted against the referendum, and the land stayed city property.

Florida International Museum: In March 1999, Foster was one of six council members to support a plan to give $2.1 million to the Florida International Museum to help keep it afloat. Ford was the only council member to vote against the plan.

The money was used to buy the land under the then-museum property.

Council retreats: Ford voted against attending a City Council retreat in July 1999. Foster supported the retreat, which was described as a way to help council members get along better and run meetings more efficiently. Ford said she couldn't support a retreat because she didn't know its purpose or the details.

Raises for council: Foster attempted to block 3 percent pay raises for City Council members in October 1999 only to be outvoted by Ford and others.

At the time, council members made $21,997. The raise increased salaries to $22,657.

Blocking the pay cut was "more symbolic than anything else," Foster said at the time.

It was Ford who motioned to table Foster's suggestion.

"I'm not going to negotiate against myself, Mr. Foster," Ford said. "I certainly think I'm worth more than what I get."

Meeting at Tiger Bay: City Council members were invited in early 2000 as speakers to the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. The club meets monthly and questions local elected, civic and community leaders on topics of the day.

But Ford declined to go. In a letter to club members, she said she feared losing her license to practice law if she appeared to violate Florida's Sunshine Laws — the laws that govern open meetings in Florida.

Ford's letter, read from the dais when it was her turn to be there, provoked groans and laughter from the audience, the Times reported.

Foster, who also is a lawyer, attended the event. He said he trusted the opinion of the city's legal staff, who said the Tiger Bay meeting did not violate open meeting rules.

Mayor's call-in show: Ford and Foster, along with three other council members, voted to temporarily bar call-in shows on the city's cable channel in January 2000 after wondering whether a proposed show by then-Mayor David Fischer might aid his possible re-election campaign.

Fischer ended up not running. Ford did.

Police management review: Ford and Foster tried unsuccessfully in April 2000 to hire a consultant to formally review the city's Police Department.

The City Council voted 5-3 against the performance review, which would have measured how well then chief-Goliath Davis ran the department. Both Ford and Foster supported the review.

During discussions, Davis suggested Ford and Foster were pursuing a vendetta, the Times reported.

Juvenile curfew: Both Ford and Foster supported a midnight curfew for teenagers that would have punished parents if their children violated its terms. The concept was rejected by a majority of the City Council. "When you're under 18, you can't buy tobacco, can't buy pornography," Foster said in September 2000. "Why should you be on the streets at all hours of the night?"

Web tease

To read more about the candidates and their positions, go to elections.tampabay.com.

ON THE WEB

Catch up on the campaign

To read more about the candidates and their positions, go to elections.tampabay.com.



fast facts

Election Day

St. Petersburg voters will go to the polls Tuesday to select a new mayor and five council members. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To find your polling place, go to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Web site at votepinellas.com.

A closer look at the St. Petersburg mayoral candidates' council records 10/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2009 7:22pm]
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