Sunday, April 22, 2018
Politics

The Buzz: News of Pinellas Politics

Bonding

In an unusual show of unity, St. Petersburg City Council members Jim Kennedy, right, and Wengay Newton, left, agreed on an issue.

Both men and colleague Steve Kornell questioned top staffers Thursday about the decision to move a meeting with Bayfront Medical Center officials from a workshop to an agenda review session.

Agenda review sessions aren't recorded or televised on the city's television station. Workshops are taped. After the three council members pressed staffers, the cameras went on. Mayor Bill Foster sounded like a television producer: "We're going live in five."

Kennedy and Newton even waltzed out of the meeting together.

Cupid and a coincidence?

The Buzz has to wonder if St. Petersburg city staffers are closely watching mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman. After all, he wants to be their new boss.

On Thursday, Kriseman polled supporters on his campaign's Facebook page, asking: "Happy Valentine's Day. Being a day that we focus on love, tell me what you love most about St. Petersburg?

An hour later, a similar message appeared on the city's Facebook page: "Do you love St. Pete as much as we do? Tell us what you love most about our city?"

By Friday morning, Kriseman had 17 comments; the city had one.

PSTA: No really, people ride our buses

Pinellas County's buses are empty, so why exactly are we talking about building a commuter rail? So goes the argument from light rail detractors who think the county's transit agency is mad for suggesting that more taxpayer money go to mass transit.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority can't legally campaign for light rail, but it can certainly make infomercials that discredit misperceptions.

Enter "Busting the Empty Bus Myth!" — a video PSTA made to convince the public that, yes, bus riders exist. It features communications director Bob Lasher standing on the corner of Drew Street and McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater, at the end of Route 60, where he explains that when buses begin and end their routes, they usually are empty. But midroute, they're not.

"I can assure you, you don't carry more than 14 million people a year on empty buses," he says.

So far, more 3,700 people have watched the video on YouTube.

Competing hats

When the Pinellas County Commission met Tuesday to decide if it should schedule a vote to put the proposed transit tax on the 2014 ballot, Commissioner Norm Roche struggled to explain his lone no vote.

In his role as a PSTA board member, he'd voted to ask the commission to put the sales tax increase on the 2014 ballot. In his role as a county commissioner, he'd voted against it.

"You voted for this at PSTA …" Commissioner Ken Welch said incredulously.

"There are dual roles here," Roche, right, responded. With his PSTA hat off, he said, "there is a whole different set of questions I have that have not been answered."

Brows furrowed. Lips pursed. And someone changed the topic.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @markpuente on Twitter. Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

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