Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

Rick Kriseman policy speech hits familiar themes

ST. PETERSBURG — On the campaign trail, Rick Kriseman frequently jabs at Mayor Bill Foster for shifting positions on many issues facing the city.

Kriseman on Wednesday did a shift of his own, backing off an earlier pledge to return to the city's old method of community policing where an officer was assigned to every neighborhood.

At a news conference billed as a "major policy speech," Kriseman said he likes the older model but is "open-minded to whatever approach ensures responsiveness to our residents and also strengthens the officer-resident relationship."

Foster and police Chief Chuck Harmon say the old model was too labor-intensive and bad for morale because of a perception that officers who worked nicer neighborhoods were getting by with lighter duties.

Foster said he isn't surprised by Kriseman's softened stance. "I am glad he's listening to me," he said. "He knows I'm right."

Kriseman, who has faced criticism for not having an in-depth plan for the city, read from an eight-page statement at Seminole Park in the Historic Kenwood neighborhood.

Much of the plan included goals he already has touted to voters.

He pledged to develop what he calls StPeteStat, based on computer programs used in Baltimore; Louisville, Ky.; and Syracuse, N.Y. To save money, he said his staff would hold weekly meetings to analyze past, present and future performance objectives.

Workers and managers, he said, would be graded weekly. The system would incorporate the current mayor's action line used by residents to lodge complaints about services.

"StPeteStat won't start on day one," Kriseman said. "But it will start, and it will grow."

When pressed, Kriseman did not provide specific examples on how the program would save money in the Police Department or other large departments.

When told by a reporter that many department heads meet weekly to analyze costs, Kriseman said it "needs to happen citywide."

He also pledged to hire a deputy mayor to oversee neighborhoods and vowed to "resolve negotiations with Duke Energy" to convert streetlights to brighter LED bulbs to help lower crime.

He said he would hire a staffer to lure clean-energy jobs to the city and develop a city plan for climate change.

Another goal is to work with Pinellas County Schools to incorporate community-service activities into the curriculum.

While taking questions, Kriseman was asked if he pitched the plan to the School Board. He answered by explaining how he once passed legislation connected to the program while in the Florida House.

"From that time on, I've had conversations with school board members about service learning," he said, adding that "they're interested in" anything that improves schools.

Asked if board members would implement the plan, Kriseman said: "Absolutely."

That was news to them.

Six of seven School Board members said Wednesday that they had never spoken to Kriseman about service learning — or much of anything.

Only board member Linda Lerner said she had talked to Kriseman about service learning. The two have talked about that topic for years, she said.

When told late Wednesday about the board members' comments, Kriseman said he "misspoke" and that he hasn't talked to any board members since entering the race.

"It would be presumptuous to assume they would adopt it," he added.

Foster called the news conference a "nice political stunt" designed to generate news on the biggest day of the baseball season for the Tampa Bay Rays.

He also said it is no coincidence that Kriseman tied his announcement to absentee ballots being mailed to homes this week. He said he read Kriseman's statement, and many of the programs he describes are already in place.

"That's all he's got," Foster said. "There was nothing new. He gave us his all."

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @markpuente.

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