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Vote to follow project hearing

Residents will get their say before the City Council decides the fate of Bay Plaza, the downtown redevelopment project.

The procedural moves are complicated, but the bottom line is that Thursday's agenda would not allow the council to vote before a public hearing on Bay Plaza, Assistant City Attorney John Wolfe assured council member Connie Kone on Tuesday.

Wolfe said he reviewed the agenda with Kone after her comments about the meeting sequence appeared in Tuesday's City Times.

And at the council's Tuesday agenda review meeting, Kone quickly pointed out that Wolfe had explained to her just how the agenda sequence would work.

But what happened next was a stunning example of how the whole Bay Plaza issue has managed to fray a lot of nerves in recent weeks.

"It's complicated," Mayor David Fischer said of Thursday's agenda, when the council will at different times convene, recessand reconvene both as the council and as a panel called the Community Redevelopment Agency.

But council member Bea Griswold didn't buy Fischer's assessment.

Griswold, a Bay Plaza supporter, pointedly told Kone that her remarks in the newspaper didn't suggest confusion; they suggested that some council members were conspiring to derail a public debate.

Now that Kone understood the procedure, Griswold said, her statement saying so "might be followed with an apology."

"You're reading something into it that was never intended," Kone replied. "There was never any . . . " Kone never finished.

Griswold already had begun her response in a sarcastic tone, her voice rising: "I guess it's that press writing down the wrong things again."

"No," Kone said, "I'm not saying what the press wrote down, I'm saying that I raised the question because it is _ may I finish please? _ because it is a departure from standard procedure."

"We've done this many times," Griswold shot back, adding that the redevelopment board is usually early on the council's agenda.

The two council members tried to talk over each other before Kone prevailed: "I am trying to make sure that we have public input before we make major decisions."

After a few more verbal swipes, council member Edward Cole weighed in: "Oh, come on, let's knock it off. That's no way to behave."

Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran tried to redirect the subject a bit, saying that everyone's goal was to make sure that the public would be heard before any council votes were cast Thursday, and that's what would happen.

As the episode began to pass, Kone spoke again. "If I offended anyone, I'm sorry," she said.

As the meeting concluded, Curran tried to end on an upbeat note.

She passed out copies of a June 26 letter from William Heller, dean of the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus, offering the school as a forum should the developer and community groups wish to meet to discuss their plans for downtown's future.

To that, Curran added a list of 13 groups that might want to be included in future discussions. Their interests run the gamut, from the Council of Neighborhood Associations to the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. Other groups would be welcome to participate, she said.

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