ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman resigned Thursday after she was accused of not living in the district she represents, a violation of the city charter.
Council chairperson Gina Driscoll announced Wheeler-Bowman’s resignation late Thursday shortly after former mayoral candidate Vince Nowicki made the accusation.
Wheeler-Bowman has represented District 7, which includes southern St. Petersburg neighborhoods of Childs Park and Bear Creek, since 2015. She was in her second term, which ends in 2024.
Nowicki appeared at the City Council meeting Thursday to level the claim against Wheeler-Bowman. He noted that she purchased a house in July in District 6 with a Veterans Affairs loan, which requires the home to be the buyer’s primary residence. Nowicki also filed a written complaint with the council.
Nowicki told the Times someone reached out to tell him that Wheeler-Bowman was not living in her district. He gathered information through her publicly available property and mortgage records, but hired a private investigator this week to run the license plates of cars on the newly purchased property.
On Thursday, before speaking during the council’s open forum, Nowicki said he saw that one of the license plates run by the private investigator parked at City Hall.
“I didn’t mind paying out of pocket doing something that should’ve been done by government,” Nowicki said. “If the government’s not going to be responsible and provide good leadership, I’m going to.”
Wheeler-Bowman tendered her resignation in an email Thursday night to the City Council administrative officer. A cellphone number she has used while serving on the City Council appeared to be disconnected Friday morning. Wheeler-Bowman did not respond to requests for comment via the email address she used to tender her resignation with the city.
“You are aware I recently purchased a home outside of my district. I was not aware of the residence requirement that was in the huge stack of mortgage documents that were given to me at closing,” she wrote. “Because of this requirement I will be moving my residence to that location. Even though I purchased the house in July it was always my intent to live in my district until the end of my term.
“I am submitting my resignation as council member effective immediately,” she continued. “It has been an honor to serve my community.”
According to the city charter, any council member who does not remain a resident of their district during their term of office “shall immediately be removed from office by City Council.”
Dustin Chase, Pinellas County’s deputy supervisor of elections, confirmed that Wheeler-Bowman’s address on her voter registration does not reflect the address of the home she purchased in July. Chase confirmed she voted in the August 2022 primary election.
One video posted to Wheeler-Bowman’s TikTok account shows her dancing in a kitchen on Aug. 19. The kitchen in the video matches photos of the kitchen in her new home’s listing on realtor.com.
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No one answered the door at either address late Friday morning. The home Wheeler-Bowman purchased in July is in the Melrose neighborhood, three blocks east of her current district boundary and about three miles from the address listed on her voter registration. However, the city is in the process of redrawing district lines.
Nowicki also alleged that J.C. Pritchett II, a pastor who was appointed by Wheeler-Bowman to a city commission tasked with drafting new council district boundaries every 10 years, helped redraw the District 7 lines to include Wheeler-Bowman’s new home.
Without the change, she could have been removed from office if she moved into the new home before her term ends. Wheeler-Bowman, however, cannot run for a third term due to a limit on consecutive years of service by council members.
Pritchett said he only asked for the boundary along 22nd Street S. to be moved one block to Union Street S. to keep the Deuces redevelopment and the Manhattan Casino in a historically Black district. He said that it was the city that said the boundary needed to be moved further east to 16th Street S.
“I don’t see in this grand conspiracy how this involves her,” Pritchett said. He said he did not know that Wheeler-Bowman moved.
The City Council will meet next week to begin an appointment process to replace Wheeler-Bowman.