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Pier petition deadline comes and goes

Published Jun. 12, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — According to Mayor Bill Foster's calculations, Monday was the beginning of the end for the group trying to force a vote on the Pier, which is set to be replaced.

Foster had given voteonthepier.com a June 11 deadline to submit the almost 16,000 petitions needed to get on the Nov. 6 ballot. But Monday came and went without a single petition delivered to City Hall.

Wengay Newton, who is the sole council member against the new $50 million Pier and who signed the first petition in 2010, called Foster's deadline arbitrary.

"The petitions are good for two years. … How are you going to tell 16,000 registered voters you can't vote and then say, 'Vote for me?' " he said.

"I'm not trying to dictate their timing,'' Foster said. "I'm trying to give them the best road map possible to even have a chance of getting something on the ballot."

Foster said he factored in time for the city clerk to count the petitions, for the council to consider an ordinance to put the issue on the ballot and for the petitions to be delivered to the supervisor of elections by the Aug. 3 deadline.

"This August date is really the driving force to have anything on the November ballot," Foster said. "I do not support a special election. This is really it."

Tom Lambdon, the Safety Harbor man heading the voteonthepier.com effort, said the group has 14,100 petitions and will have the required number within two weeks.

"We have time to get this done,'' he said.

Lambdon's group may have options. The council could agree to a special election, at a cost of about $300,000. The council also could pass an emergency ordinance by July 26 to get the question on the November ballot.

"I have to look very carefully at the merit of doing that,'' said council member Steve Kornell. "They've had 18 months to try to get things together.''

City attorney John Wolfe has said that legally, the city does not have to hold an election. The city charter addresses petitions only for ordinances. Foster has said the Pier question should be on the ballot if the group collects the petitions. Meanwhile, the city has signed a contract with Michael Maltzan Architecture, designer of the new Pier, and set next May 31 as the date for closing the current structure.

"The beauty of a November election is we are still in the conceptual stage," Foster said. "We need finality."

Council member Charlie Gerdes said he might consider an ordinance to put the question on the November ballot. As for the actual question, he said it should contain "accurate information about what the consequences would be" for preserving or renovating the inverted pyramid.

"What it would cost and how many subsidies would it require every single year after that?"

Council member Karl Nurse also would feel obligated to put the measure on the ballot if the petitions are received, but he wants to make sure voters understand the cost.

"We really have done a poor job communicating the condition of the Pier and the choices,'' he said. "We really should have been able to communicate how structurally unstable the Pier was."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

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