Changing St. Petersburg’s City Charter Stumbles Over Bipartisan Opposition

ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – Seven amendments intended to change the St. Petersburg City Charter, laboriously developed by a nine-member committee this summer, are being opposed by both poles of the city’s political world this fall.

Both the notoriously left-leaning editorial board of the local newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times, and group of more conservative city leaders operating under the title “Bad For St. Petersburg.com” have voiced strong opposition to the proposed amendments. The newspaper opposes six of the seven, and the leadership group opposes them all.

“Whether these amendments are approved or denied will have major financial and legal impacts on St. Petersburg,” the leadership group says in a written statement and on its website, https://badforstpete.com. (The actual name of the organization is “St. Pete Cares”.)

A SOLUTION IN SEARCH OF A PROBLEM

“Don’t mess with St. Petersburg’s voting system,” was the demand bannered by the normally more sophisticated editorial board in opposition to the first of the amendments, which proposes historic change in how members of the city council are elected. It “smacked of a solution in search of a problem,” the editorial read.

The city leaders group called the same amendment, which would give up city-wide council elections in favor of single-district elections, “divisive.”

Other proposals sounded like they were snipped from a grammar of political correctness. One calls for establishing “an equity framework and Chief Equity Officer” for the city government. Another would require the city to establish “Charter-protected equity funding.”

Speaking on “The Republic of Pinellas” radio program last week Ed Carlson, who has a long record of city leadership in St. Petersburg and who was himself a member of the Charter Review Commission, declared people confuse “equality” and “equity.”

“Equity means treating people unequally in order to ensure outcomes are equal.”

Appearing on the same program Larry Williams, formerly a member of the city council said, “It is disturbing that a charter review committee could be led even to put something like this on the ballot.”

Ed Carlson and Larry Williams

A PREAMBLE

The last of the proposed amendments calls for the city to add to the charter “a preamble” that would be “an aspirational statement. . .acknowledging past shortcomings,” among other things.

The editorial board, which many readers have for decades seen as a fountain of fashionable liberalism, rejected this amendment, saying, “There’s no requirement that a charter have a preamble, and the one proposed in this amendment falls short in too many ways — too long, too vague and hardly inspiring — to garner our support. The city has lived without a preamble for decades, and it can survive at least 10 more years without one.”

“Bad For St. Petersburg” declared that the idea “disrespects our City and admits guilt.” It would “open the door for endless lawsuits.”

“If a preamble is added,” the group wrote, “ALL of the wording should be developed with full input from ALL of our community, not the nine members of the Commission.”

“The Charter provides guidance to the Council, Mayor and administrative staff,” the group’s message continues. “It was never meant to be a political statement.”

The Charter Review Committee, chaired by Dr. Lars Hafner, a Democrat and former member of the Florida House of Representatives, met 18 times between January and July of this year.  It spontaneously formed a three-member “Racial Equity Subcommittee” that met nine times.

The newspaper editorial board did endorse one proposed amendment that would have a made a minor change in the schedule of future Charter Review Committee meetings.

The charter amendments will appear on the ballot during the city election November 2nd.

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