ST. PETERSBURG — An interfaith civic action group doled out kudos to county officials Monday evening in exchange for their promises to toughen school discipline, create more affordable housing and help inmates released from jail stay out of trouble.
Nearly 800 people from 35 congregations in Pinellas County gathered at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church for the forum organized by Faith and Action for Strength Together, a group known for demanding that elected officials publicly embrace positions on issues.
In attendance were Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats, Pinellas schools chief academic officer Cathy Fleeger and County Commissioner John Morroni.
The group applauded Fleeger for accepting their challenge to better train teachers to deal with rowdy students and to implement more leadership from the superintendent's office. They cheered Coats for evaluating more than 3,000 inmates for drug counseling and other services, and for having deputies take Spanish and cultural sensitivity classes. And they saluted Morroni and Commissioner Karen Seel for securing funding for affordable housing.
St. Petersburg mayoral candidates Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster were both on hand. They agreed to attend the group's next meeting, expected to draw 3,500 people. Church leaders polled the packed church to choose which social concern was 2010's top issue. Overwhelmingly, they chose the need for more jobs.
"We understand that in our society there are two sources of power: organized money and organized people," the Rev. Lawrence Barriner of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Clearwater told the crowd. "Our congregations don't have lots of money, but we do have a lot of people."