The holiday season is upon us and as we wrap up another year, what better time to rate the issues and events that helped drive conversation and debate in the proverbial public square. ¶ As in years past, the issues will be rated Santa-style, with candy canes or lumps of coal. There was plenty to go around in both categories.
The first candy cane goes to residents, businesses and local officials who have been instrumental in helping the city earn the Arts Destination for Midsize Cities three years in a row by AmericanStyle magazine. The designation goes beyond the arts community and has the potential of being an economic driver for the coming year.
Candy canes go to Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder (gold) and Jen French and JP Creignou (both silver), who medaled in the 2012 London Paralympics Games. To have one resident competing on the world stage is a great distinction, but to have three medalists call the Sunshine City home is really special.
A candy cane goes to St. Petersburg council member Karl Nurse for his collaboration with other elected officials and community leaders to put a plan in action for the city to consider implementing a special taxing district in Midtown.
The program was created by the state Legislature to help economically depressed neighborhoods. In the past that designation has benefited the Mahaffey, BayWalk, the Salvador Dalí Museum and the Pier.
The Saturday Morning Market and LocalShops1 earn candy canes as they celebrated milestone anniversaries this year. The leaders of both outfits helped foster a stronger sense of community among local small businesses, regional growers and the residents and visitors who flock to weekly and scheduled gatherings to support the buy local phenomenon.
There are countless efforts in south Pinellas worthy of candy canes, but allow me to switch gears to point out a few worthy recipients for lumps of coal.
As if they're stuck in a bad cycle of Groundhog Day, there are a couple of issues that city officials seem to stumble over, time after time.
The two that stand out most are the Rays stadium and the Pier.
The Pier, despite plans to close the facility in May, could wind up in litigation for months as groups rally to either save the crumbling structure or abandon plans for the new Lens project. The bickering in City Hall on the stadium issue is embarrassing and shows poor leadership. At times, it is hard to tell if some elected officials are really passionate about keeping the Rays in town or merely trying to score points for political aspirations. Either way, residents lose. Lumps of coal all around.
Thankfully, the County Commission will continue the Rays' stadium discussion early next year since talks with St. Petersburg appears to have stalled.
A lump of coal also goes to the St. Petersburg Police Department's tone-deaf approach to its chase policy. Back in January, a chase resulted in a four-car crash with multiple injuries (of innocent residents) after the police were in hot pursuit of an unarmed purse snatcher — during rush hour.
Fast-forward to September and complaints were still coming in as innocent residents were sustaining injuries because of this policy. Here's hoping 2013 brings a more thoughtful review of the policy. Until then, a lump of coal will have to suffice.
Another lump goes to the city's handling of the red-light camera report. The cameras became a big issue throughout south Pinellas as several municipalities adopted the devices as a safety measure. But leave it to St. Petersburg officials to get tripped up on the details. A recent report conveniently omitted data on crashes. Turns out crashes increased at intersections with cameras. And after a three-hour debate at a recent City Council meeting proved futile, more cameras will be added.
It's no wonder the taxpayers have trust issues with city leaders.
Here's hoping the new year brings some positive changes all around.
Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at email@example.com, (727) 893-8874 and @StPeteSandi on Twitter.