During his first four months in office, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has talked a lot about building a collective vision for the city and changing the closed-door culture of City Hall. Early signs are promising that Kriseman and his administration are reaching out. Kriseman this week unveiled his public process for proceeding on the Pier and he's rightly talking about the city's need to refocus its efforts on fighting poverty. But the mayor's success won't be defined by rhetoric but results. Just building consensus on what's next for the Pier, for example, will require extraordinary skill.
In a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board this week, Kriseman detailed his progress on a variety of fronts:
• A new police chief: Among Kriseman's first acts was reinstating the city's ban on most police chases and now he's looking for the right candidate to take over a department that still suffers from significant racial tension in its ranks and distrust among many residents in predominantly black neighborhoods. Kriseman's team last week released the resumes of two internal and eight outside candidates for the job, and Kriseman plans to involve officers and the public before making a final decision in June. He said his choice will be informed first by finding a leader capable of uniting the department and reaching out to the community. But key to finding the right candidate requires fully understanding the scope of the problem, including complaints by black police officers about the department's promotion process. Kriseman should get the results of an investigation into that promotion process soon.
• Inter-governmental relations: Neither of Kriseman's most recent predecessors, Mayors Rick Baker and Bill Foster, were known for playing well with other local governments. But Kriseman said he believes a resolution on reforming the county's too-expensive Emergency Medical Services program could be imminent and he's hopeful Pinellas County commissioners will help support building a new St. Petersburg police headquarters. He's also a strong proponent of Greenlight Pinellas, understanding that transit is important to regional economic development, and has a personal relationship with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Kriseman, a former state legislator, is also finding help in Tallahassee, where a better budget year has meant potential local funding for a host of projects, including housing for the poor, water projects and upgrades at the Mahaffey Theater.
• Tampa Bay Rays: Kriseman appears to already have a better relationship with Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, whom he began meeting with before he was sworn in. Foster took a public, hard line against the Rays' desire to explore potential new stadium sites in Hillsborough County. The substance of the talks between Sternberg and Kriseman is being kept private for now, Kriseman said, to establish trust. But both men have characterized their conversations as pleasant and productive.
• Transparency in city government: Kriseman raised eyebrows early in his tenure when he decided to tap unspent capital funds to hire a cadre of advisers. Now comes word that a significant amount of such funds may exist in city coffers as staff for years have routinely kept accounts on projects open long after a project was complete. Kriseman promises to provide a full accounting of the city's resources. He shouldn't rest until taxpayers can trace every single dollar the city takes in and spends and there are no balances tucked away in obscure accounts.
Kriseman has brought fresh energy and optimism to leading Florida's fourth largest city. And he evokes the right values — transparency and public engagement — when he talks about how decisions will be made. Going forward, however, the rhetoric will matter less than the results.