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Older areas to get an advocate

For months, Mayor David Fischer has been talking about the state of St. Petersburg's older neighborhoods. He would like to be remembered as the mayor who revitalized them.

Tuesday, he took the concept a step further, announcing a new position to oversee neighborhood restoration efforts.

"Ramrod," Fischer said, must describe the Neighborhood Partnership director, whomever that turns out to be. "It's a big job."

The director will be selected from within existing city staff, Fischer told City Council members Tuesday at a lunch meeting. Already, 21 staffers have applied for the job, which will pay between $40,000 and $60,000, he said.

The job will not require new funds, but will mean reorganization of existing staffers, Fischer said. It represents one shift in an overall realignment plan Fischer expects to announce by the end of the month as his administration adapts to the city's new, strong mayor form of government.

The neighborhood director will coordinate restoration plans for six St. Petersburg neighborhoods that have been adopted as part of the city's Great Neighborhood Partnership Planning Program.

Since 1990, City Council has approved plans for tearing down dilapidated homes and restoring streets, sidewalks and landscaping in North Shore, Central, Round Lake, Old Southeast, Bartlett Park and Roser Park neighborhoods.

An overall director will keep in touch with police, code enforcement officials, planning and zoning workers, and leisure services staff members, Fischer said. "He or she will report directly to the mayor," Fischer said.

The concept sounds like a good one, said Ron Motyka, a resident who helped develop one of the plans.

"Having one person to deal with would be helpful," said Motyka, who worked on Roser Park's plan. "We have all those issues in the details of our plan _ things involving different departments, like downzoning and fixing up the park _ so that would be helpful. We'd know who to have direct access to."

Fischer also told City Council members, who have expressed concern over the estimated $25-million cost of the six plans, that public and private money would cover the costs. "The resources are there," Fischer said.

Council member Ernest Fillyau cautioned Fischer that he may find residents "suspicious" of such grand proposals. Residents in his district have heard promises before, but found themselves still lacking basic services, such as decently surfaced roads, Fillyau said.

"They get to the southside and the money runs out," Fillyau said. "The bottom line is don't be surprised if you get a little resistance."

Thus far, Fischer said, he had not observed that.

Fischer called council members together Tuesday morning for an informal lunch meeting, where he apologized for not spending more time with them.

Since his election as strong mayor, Fischer's schedule had been frenzied, he said. He was busy fighting the "rap" he had received as too laidback to be a strong mayor, he said. In a one 40-day period alone, he had attended 107 engagements with civic clubs, neighborhood groups and others.

"It dawned on me that I never had a chance to sit down and talk to the council," he said. "The alarm bell went off last week." Fischer suggested holding informal lunch meetings on a regular basis.

Council members praised the mayor and encouraged him to keep talking to them.

"You can sure give us an explanation," said council member Edward L. Cole Jr.. "But I'm not sure you owe us an apology."

"I personally think you've done a good job with your short term as strong mayor," Cole said.

Council member David Welch called for a "team approach" as the city adjusted to a new form of government. "We need to give it time," he said. If council members were concerned about better communication with the mayor, they could walk down the hall and talk to him, Welch suggested.