As hard as it might be to believe, a group of nine smart people, working diligently and using their best judgment, decided that what the city of St. Petersburg really needs is more people on the City Council.
More City Council members!
Personally I would have voted for, say, making sure they always filled the dog-poop-bag dispensers in the parks.
Or one, just one, outdoor production of Shakespeare with few (or no!) overblown musical numbers.
But, no. What St. Petersburg needs, according to its Charter Review Commission, is more City Council members. So the city's voters will be asked in the March 27 general election to expand the council from eight members to nine.
One stated reason for this change is to avoid 4-4 ties. But that is sort of a fake issue, since anything that gets a 4-4 vote now is defeated anyway. True, it took the council 21 votes last year to break a tie in electing a chairman, but a council divided that much isn't going to be fixed just by adding a ninth member.
A smart person explained to me that requiring a 5-3 council vote to pass something is unfair because that represents 62.5 percent of the council. Winning a 5-4 vote represents only 55.5 percent.DL:
Of course, if we are trying to lower the required winning percentage, there is no reason to stop at nine _ why not 50 out of 99?
The same logic goes for the argument that having nine council members instead of eight is more "representative." Sure it is. Having 1,000 would be more representative, too. The trade-off is having to listen to them yammer.
If we must have an odd number, why not seven? The given answer is that seven is politically difficult _ one of the existing seats gets cut. However, "politically difficult" ought not be a yardstick for deciding what gets to the ballot, or only easy things would get done.
Expanding the City Council is only one of 10 amendments to the City Charter that will be on the ballot. Several of the others deal with the balance of power between the council and our still- young experiment with a "strong" mayor.
A couple of amendments would strengthen the mayor's hand against the council, which used to be able to hire and fire city managers at will. Question 1 would require a two-thirds vote for the council to remove the mayor, instead of a simple majority.
(If you've ever watched the council at work, it's scary enough that they can do it at all. But I guess somebody has to have that power just in case.)
Question 5 would require a two-thirds council vote to override a mayoral veto of a budget item, which makes sense _ it took a simple majority to pass it in the first place. And Question 6 would give the mayor five days, instead of two, to decide whether to veto something in the first place.
On the other hand, the council's ability to poke around would be strengthened by Question 3, which would allow council members to ask city employees directly for public records. The way it works now, they have to go through the mayor. Sure, a difficult council member (good thing we've never had one of those) could inundate the staff with demands, but the mayor would still have the power to say no.
Question 4 would move city elections from the spring to the fall. Question 7 would eliminate a second election when a candidate for mayor (or the new at-large council seat) got more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.
The rest are housekeeping amendments: redraw council districts every 10 years, instead of four (Question 8). Clean up lots of word changes involving the strong mayor (Question 10). By the way, Question 9 would have the Charter Review Commission meet every 10 years, instead of every four years. Maybe that would slow down the growth rate of the City Council.
_ You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxlersptimes.com.