1. Florida Politics

Newton's tardiness, St. Petersburg budget hearings, a little fact checking

[object Object]
Published Sep. 11, 2013

Number of the week


Days until St. Petersburg residents find out who will be the next mayor.

Running late

Wengay Newton's favorite shtick is about doing the people's work. But the St. Petersburg City Council member must not have a watch. He is routinely late to council meetings and is often mocked by his colleagues for tardiness.

Now a resident is calling out Newton for arriving late to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority meetings — where he represents the city, not a council district. It's not Newton's first tardy at PSTA.

Vince Cocks, who serves on the Civic Committee for the Greenlight Pinellas campaign, chastised Newton in an email for being 20 minutes late to a recent PSTA meeting. He urged Newton to realize how important public transportation is for his constituents.

"You were selected by your colleagues to represent the interests of the city of St. Petersburg and its citizens," Cocks wrote. "Please let me and the citizens of St. Petersburg (know) how this situation will be remedied."

Newton never responded to Cocks.

Who, me?

City Council meetings never have a shortage of political jabs and wisecracks. During Thursday's meeting, Leslie Curran couldn't make this statement with a straight face: "Well, I'm not sarcastic."

Fact checking

During Thursday's meeting over how to move forward to build a new pier, Newton said residents issued a mandate when "63 percent of voters in St. Petersburg" rejected the Lens. Not quite true. The defeat garnered 63 percent of the votes in the primary, but only 31 percent of the city's 161,000 voters participated.

Budget hearings

With budget hearings set for Sept. 12 and 26, the People's Budget Review is asking Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council to fund three programs.

The coalition of neighborhood groups, civic groups and union members wants $100,000 to reduce youth unemployment by expanding Public Works Academy and another $100,000 directed at the 2020 plan, which aims to reduce poverty south of Central Avenue.

The last request of $250,000 is to "directly enhance the economy, environment, and equality of their neighborhoods."

The People's Budget Review is nonpartisan and isn't endorsing a mayoral candidate.

But Rick Smith, chief of staff for the Florida Public Services Union, which represents 1,200 city workers, said the group plans to bring 300 people to the budget hearings. The council will vote on next year's budget on Sept. 26.

"Ultimately, the budget process is political," Smith said. "The biggest political day is Sept. 26, not Nov. 5. We hope the council respects those voices."

Mark Puente can be reached at or (727) 893-8459. Follow @markpuente on Twitter. Anna M. Phillips can be reached at Follow @annamphillips on Twitter.