The St. Petersburg City Council faces a number of challenges in the coming months, including deciding the fate of the Pier, dealing with the homeless and setting spending priorities as tax revenues decline. Voters in three City Council districts will vote for council members on Sept. 1. The top two vote-getters in each district will advance to the November citywide election, when five council seats will be on the ballot.
Incumbent Leslie Curran, 53, has led the recent effort to turn the derelict Crislip Arcade in Central Avenue's 600 block into an artists' community. In 2007, she initiated the seasonal Art in the Park in downtown's Williams Park on Saturdays. Those efforts demonstrate her commitment to the city's arts scene and to improving the downtown. She deserves another term.
It would be nice to see Curran summon the energy she devotes to the arts and to downtown issues to more aggressively address broader issues. Most of the time, Curran is a solid council member who understands government. But she can let issues run their course rather than push for change.
A notable exception is Curran's recent effort, along with new council member Karl Nurse, to make the council's committee meetings, where significant policy discussions occur, more accessible to the public. While this is welcome, voters might wonder why she hadn't done so sooner. Still, the art gallery owner has demonstrated proficiency in the job and has more expertise than her opponents.
St. Petersburg native Jason Diviki, a printer and Navy veteran, brings a fresh and appealing perspective to the race from Crescent Lake, where he is the neighborhood association president and involved with the Council of Neighborhood Associations. Educator Pamella Settlegoode recently returned to St. Petersburg after living in Oregon where she was a key player in her neighborhood association. Settlegoode, 60, has framed her campaign as the antidote to Curran and has been a vocal opponent of the city's proposal for revitalizing BayWalk, including vacating the city's ownership of an adjacent sidewalk. Curran, so far, has supported the reasonable plan. Diviki, 37, has no direct critique of Curran's performance but believes it's time for a new face. Curran won her current seat in 2005 but represented another district from 1989-1998.
Neither opponent offers the same command of the issues as Curran. In District 4, the Times recommends Leslie Curran.
This seat is open because incumbent Jamie Bennett is running for mayor. All three candidates for the southernmost St. Petersburg district — Steve Kornell, Angela Rouson and Joe Smith — offer commendable records of public service. But Kornell stands above the rest for his thoughtful and well-researched positions on issues facing the city.
A St. Petersburg native, Kornell, 43, has spent his professional career amid the city's youth, first as a city recreation manager and now as a social worker in the Pinellas County schools. He sees politics as the natural progression of his career, so that he can help implement sound, long-term policies that will improve people's lives, particularly children's. A former manager of Childs Park Recreation Center, he advocates the city and schools work together to provide intervention in at-risk children's lives before they can turn to crime. In his current job, he works to keep at-risk children in school and occasionally helps families at risk of homelessness access resources to keep a roof over their heads.
Kornell does not claim government spending will solve all problems, and he advocates maintaining much of the city's existing reserves for hurricanes and other emergencies. He is dubious about whether the city needs more police officers or just a return to some community-based policing policy. He wants to find a plan for the Pier that will eliminate the city's $1.5 million annual operating subsidy. And while he isn't opposed to a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium, he says he does not want to increase the city's annual debt payments.
Rouson, 42, a member of the Pinellas County Housing Authority, and Smith, 48, a retired St. Petersburg police officer, also have records of civic engagement, including Smith's notable service for years as a youth coach and as an administrator of Eckerd College's National Youth Sports Program. But neither are as succinct or well-versed on the issues as Kornell. In District 5, the Times recommends Steve Kornell.
Karl Nurse faced two challenges when he was appointed to the City Council in April 2008 to fill an unexpired term. A white man from a majority black district, he filled a seat that had been held by African-Americans for some 30 years. And as a longtime neighborhood activist, he had clashed with City Hall often enough that some feared he would not fit in on the council.
Sixteen months later, Nurse has reassured doubters. A devoted representative of his diverse district, he has proven to be a very effective council member — energetic, innovative, informed, and showing unexpected skill at persuading other officials to support his ideas. He is off to an impressive start and should be elected to a full term.
Nurse, 55, faces two unprepared opponents. Derrick Frohne is a 24-year-old student who has been invisible in the campaign. Vel Thompson, 51, is a cosmetology student and community volunteer who was formerly a manager for the city's neighborhood services team. She was fired from her city job last year following allegations of misconduct.
Nurse, who owns a printing business, is the obvious choice. Before joining the council, he served as chairman of the Planning Commission and president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations. He helped rebuild his Old Southeast neighborhood and founded the Living Green Expo.
Several of his initiatives on the council have aided struggling residents. He launched a program to educate residents about avoiding foreclosure, and he worked with banks to offer low-cost checking accounts to low-income residents. He has pushed for more jobs and more effective code enforcement and crime fighting in troubled neighborhoods.
Nurse also has sought more transparency in city government. He cajoled the City Council into agreeing to televise its subcommittee meetings, where much of the work of the council is done. And he spoke against the secrecy involved in the award of tax incentives to businesses.
In District 6, the Times recommends Karl Nurse.
Yes on city charter amendment
All voters in the Sept. 1 primary will find a proposed city charter amendment on their ballots. The amendment would put the Pinellas County Canvassing Board in charge of canvassing, or confirming, city election results. The charter currently requires that a city canvassing board consisting of City Council members do that job.
Other Pinellas cities have been turning that task over to the county board. It takes city politicians out of the business of certifying the election of city candidates. As recent elections have demonstrated, certifying election results — including reviewing and ruling on provisional ballots — is increasingly difficult and technical.
If the charter amendment is approved and Pinellas County later institutes exorbitant fees for canvassing city elections, the city can recreate its own canvassing board if six of the eight City Council members agree.
The Times recommends a yes vote on the charter amendment.
Editor’s note: The Times’ editorial board recommendation for St. Petersburg mayor will be published shortly after Wednesday’s mayoral forum at the Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College. The forum, which is sold out, will be broadcast live by the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.