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  1. Opinion

Times recommends: Vote yes on St. Petersburg charter amendments, referendum

Here are the two city charter amendments and one referendum question on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Graphic by Tara McCarty. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Graphic by Tara McCarty. [OCTAVIO JONES | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 26, 2019

St. Petersburg voters will be asked to decide two city charter amendments and a referendum question on the Nov. 5 ballot, and none of them are controversial. One charter amendment would enable the city to accept grant money from government agencies in exchange for restricting the property to conservation or preservation use without first seeking voter approval. Another would change the date that the mayor and City Council members take office. A referendum question would allow a long-term operating agreement for the St. Petersburg Sailing Center. All three should receive a "yes'' vote.

No. 1 Charter Amendment

Land preservation

A swallowtail lands on pentas in the butterfly garden at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. [LARA CERRI | Tampa Bay Times]

This amendment is the most complicated of the three and stands to have the most far-reaching implications. It allows the city to accept grant money from a government agency for environmental conservation or preservation of park property that would restrict the use of that property to conservation or preservation without approval by the voters. Currently, based on the charter, the city cannot sell, donate or lease waterfront or park property it owns without a majority vote in a citywide referendum. Sale includes “the sale, donation or any other permanent disposition of an interest in real property,” which would include something like a conservation easement that permanently restricts the use of the land. Lease also includes “temporary easements.”

The amendment was spawned in part from a $900,000 preservation grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for part of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. In exchange for the grant, the water management district wanted a promise in the form of a conservation easement that that land would be used for conservation permanently. That permanent distinction conflicts with the charter as it stands now.

The charter already allows for three exceptions to this rule: utility easements can be placed on city-owned waterfront or park property, and so can restrictions to recreational use or airport uses such as Albert Whitted Airport in exchange for grants from government agencies. Accepting a grant and ensuring the type of use it has permanently would require a super-majority of the City Council to approve a conservation restriction on a property.

On the No. 1 Charter Amendment regarding the restriction of city-owned park to conservation use with grant funds from a government agency, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting yes.

No. 2 Charter Amendment

Date officials take office

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, left, is sworn in for a second term in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]

This amendment changes the date that St. Petersburg’s elected officials take office. Now City Council members and the mayor take office after an election on Jan. 2, which can fall on any day of the week. This amendment would allow the four-year terms for council and mayor to start on the first or second Thursday of January, which corresponds to the City Council’s meeting schedule of the first, second and third Thursday of the month.

On the No. 2 Charter Amendment changing when elected officials take office, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting yes.

Referendum Question

St. Petersburg Sailing Center

Sailboats frame what’s left of the pier as they return to the St. Petersburg Sailing Center. [MAURICE RIVENBARK | Tampa Bay Times]

This referendum would allow for a 20-year agreement for operation of the St. Petersburg Sailing Center by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club until Dec. 31, 2040. The yacht club would be required to pay for at least $800,000 in improvements to the property. The current agreement expires on Nov. 30, 2021.

A lease of city-owned commercially zoned waterfront or park property up to five years in length only requires a super-majority vote by six members of the City Council. Anything above five years requires approval by a referendum. This agreement offers more stability when the yacht club plans to make “large capital investments” in the property, said assistant city attorney Brett Pettigrew.

This amendment is similar to the Harborage Marina amendment on last year’s ballot, which extended the maximum five-year lease for to a maximum of 30 years.

On the referendum question regarding the St. Petersburg Sailing Center agreement, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting yes.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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