St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman is following through on his campaign pledge to be open and inclusive by appointing a large transition team to study city issues and offer suggestions for his administration. The group of about 50 residents reflects the diversity of the city, and it has the potential to help the new mayor get off to a fast start when he takes office in January.
Creating a significant transition team with committees devoted to analyzing specific issues is new for St. Petersburg, which has had just three strong mayors and two transitions. There is no road map, and Kriseman would be wise to leave one for his successor — and some modest public money for a transition office. But transition arrangements like this one are common in Tallahassee for governors and Cabinet members. They can offer new approaches for familiar problems and build public investment in the elected official's agenda.
The first meeting of the mayor-elect's transition team Wednesday night was upbeat and reflected the potential for St. Petersburg to start fresh. The group is diverse in race, gender, religious affiliation and experience. There are grass roots activists and downtown lawyers, a handful of former and current city officials, business leaders and former presidents of homeowner associations. Kriseman established the appropriate tone by declaring that this exercise is about solving problems, not scoring political points.
Some transition committee leaders will take a fresh look at issues they have studied before. The chairman of the committee studying the Pier is Ed Montanari, who was vice chairman of the Pier Advisory Task Force. The chairman of the transition committee studying the Tampa Bay Rays and the stadium stalemate is Craig Sher, the business executive who helped lead the ABC Coalition civic group several years ago that reviewed potential stadium sites. It's reasonable to turn to engaged residents who know the history of these issues so transition team members benefit from an informed perspective and avoid starting from scratch.
The transition team has less than six weeks to work, and Kriseman has instructed that its work be open and transparent. That means following state law on maintaining public records and holding public meetings. Yet as City Attorney John Wolfe explained the law to transition team members, he dismissed government-in-the-sunshine as a "necessary inconvenience.'' It's much more than that, and Wolfe offered a pinched view of the public notice required for public meetings and of when transition team members can meet in private. The team appeared headed toward fact-finding in private and only meeting publicly next month to make recommendations, and it was unclear whether all of the information it collects would be released.
Kriseman reaffirmed Thursday that he wants all transition work to be public. The transition team should embrace that spirit rather than the narrow legal advice from the city attorney who does not share the mayor-elect's enthusiasm for openness.