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Ken Welch’s ‘community conversations’ prepare his administration — White House visit

A report compiling all the feedback and suggestions will be released to the public after Dec. 22.
St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Ken Welch listens to feedback at his first of three "Community Conversations" on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg to solicit ideas from the public for his upcoming administration.
St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Ken Welch listens to feedback at his first of three "Community Conversations" on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg to solicit ideas from the public for his upcoming administration. [ Octavio Jones ]
Published Dec. 14, 2021|Updated Dec. 14, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor-elect’s “Community Conversations” happened just in time for his invitation to the White House.

Ken Welch hosted the third and last of the public forums held to solicit feedback for his upcoming administration from Washington, D.C., the night before he was invited to meet with senior officials and Cabinet secretaries. He spent Tuesday morning before his big day of meetings reading the language of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and the Build Back Better agenda, which prioritizes affordable housing — a big concern from the campaign trail and voiced during those community conversations.

“Really, that’s the number one issue, along with climate change in St. Petersburg,” Welch said, explaining that President Joe Biden’s initiative could help. “I see a lot of places where this is what communities across the nation and St. Pete need at this time.”

He said preliminary numbers showed 500 people attended the three sessions held Friday afternoon, Saturday morning and Monday night. The first two sessions were held at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and the last was held virtually over Zoom.

“It just was really good to see that folks are engaged and wanting to be part of an inclusive governance model,” Welch said.

The results will be compiled into a report that will be released to the public after Dec. 22. He said he was interested in the recommendations.

“It’s going to shape the policies and the priorities and will really, I think, confirm the surveying and the 2050 plan process, just to make sure we’re on the right page with the community,” he said.

Welch started the Monday night event with a welcome, and then subject matter experts from the community discussed each of the five focal points highlighted by Welch’s transition: education and youth opportunities; equitable development and business opportunities; neighborhood health and safety; environment, infrastructure, and resilience; and housing opportunities for all.

At Monday’s session, Mike Sutton, the president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, spoke about how families are spending too much to cover the costs of their home, and wages have not kept pace. Susan Glickman, a consultant for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, spoke about how flooding will rise from 6 inches to 12 inches and the amount of 100-degree days will go from 30 days a year to 130 days by midcentury without intervention.

Also in attendance were St. Petersburg City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders and council member-elect Lisset Hanewicz.

The crowd was split into smaller group sessions to talk about obstacles to improving each of the five focal points and to give suggestions. Roxanne Fixsen, who used to work with Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, a sponsor for the event, noticed diversity in the participants across economic strata and race.

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“There was a really good mix of perspectives and viewpoints that really led to a lot of healthy discussions that took place,” she said. “And really a lot of solutions and ideas.”

As for the feedback she received, Fixsen said, “I think what struck me was how positive and healthy the discussion was. And the level of gratitude. It was a reminder to me that people need to feel heard. Being able to gather all these different discussions is what’s going to lead us to a greater impact.”

Attorney Tamara Felton-Howard said she heard about the community conversations through a friend and on social media. She tuned in Monday while caring for her grandchildren.

She said she wasn’t really sure what the focus of the conversations were going to be and was hoping to learn a little more about the mayor-elect’s agenda.

“I was excited that we were able to communicate with one another and have a dialogue. I’m glad that he seemed to have an open ear to see what residents have to say and offer,” Felton-Howard said. “It seems as though he definitely has his pulse of what’s going on in St. Petersburg. I’m confident he’ll tackle all of those concerns.”

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