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St. Petersburg's cynical plan to thwart Amendment 4 (redux)

With St. Petersburg's final decision not until September, let's take another look at that city's attempt to thwart Amendment 4.

Amendment 4 on this November's ballot is known as "Hometown Democracy." It says that voters of each Florida city and county should have direct say over certain growth decisions.

By "certain growth decisions," I mean changes to each city and county's "comprehensive plan," a huge, complicated document governed by state law. Every city and county in Florida has one.

Right off the bat, let's suppose that Hometown Democracy is just a terrible idea. All those elections!

The issue here is what St. Petersburg proposes to do if the voters pass it anyway.

Here is St. Petersburg's idea:

The city is creating a decoy map, calling it the only "plan" covered by Amendment 4, and declaring that this simplistic, pretty-colored map is the only thing voters control.

Meanwhile, the city's real comprehensive plan — and the real decisions about where developers will build — would stay under the control of the City Council.

It is a trick that will surely be challenged in court.

Naturally, the City Council approved it by a 7-1 vote on its first reading.

The city bats its eyes sweetly and claims that it is just trying to make Amendment 4 "better." (This reminds me of an off-color joke; e-mail me at htroxler@sptimes.com and I'll tell it to you.)

The city also claims that it would still hold an election for most big developments. I do not believe that for one nanosecond.

Listen:

(1) The whole idea of Amendment 4 is to achieve voter control of comprehensive plans — REAL comprehensive plans. Creating a decoy plan does not make Amendment 4 "better." It guts it.

(2) The argument that Amendment 4 is a bad idea still cannot justify the city's end run around the Constitution.

Amendment 4 might be a lousy idea. But if 60 percent of the voters of this state vote in November to put it in our Constitution anyway, then the city should obey it.

The mayor and members of the City Council took an oath to defend the Constitution, didn't they? Or did each one mutter under his or her breath, right hand in the air: "Except when I know better than the stupid voters"?

(3) If this trickery is allowed to stand by the courts, then the petition process in the Florida Constitution is meaningless.

This is the most important thing at stake. The Constitution is even more important than what the Sembler Co. is going to build next.

If the government in Florida can defy the voters by tricks and labels, then the Constitution does not matter. The voters can pass any change, and the government can just rename the thing in question and go on with its business as usual.

In sum, this is a disingenuous attempt to dodge democracy. It speaks poorly for the seven council members who voted for it. It speaks poorly for the mayor and his staff, who are pushing it.

It is morally wrong.

How can the City Council do it? How can its members walk around in public, holding their heads high, proud of trying to beat down the ignorant riff-raff, proud of trying to block citizens from running their own democracy and their own Constitution, all so they can keep letting developers build what they want?

St. Petersburg's cynical plan to thwart Amendment 4 (redux) 07/28/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 8:23pm]

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