Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Mayoral Candidates and the Neighborhood

Since the second David Fisher administration and the institution of a strong mayor,  neighborhood organizations  have been a vital part of the fabric of the City's approach to governing.
Rick Baker as Mayor carefully reduced the neighborhood associations' influence to a manageable level and applied carefully controlled levels of staff support and projects. The neighborhood  associations became an important part of the City Administration.
Mayor Foster has gradually dismantled the neighborhood program, reducing staff support and limiting the amount of direct input provided by the individual neighborhood associations and their over arching organization the Council of Neighborhood  Associations (CONA).  All of this was done in name of reducing the budget, but in fact there was little interest in neighborhood input.
So how do the mayoral candidates feel about the neighborhoods, their associations and the role of these organizations in their administration?
I posed this question to the Mayoral candidates:  Do you support the neighborhood association concept and what will you do to specifically help rebuild this City asset?
Anthony Cates : No response
Paul Congemi:
Yes, neighborhood associations are wonderful. The energy to make a good association must come from the residents, though. This isn't something you can bring about from city hall. I support neighborhood policing as one way to bring more cohesiveness to the neighborhood.
Kathleen Ford:
As a former neighborhood association president, member of the City's first neighborhood plan planning committee, and liaison to other neighborhoods considering neighborhood plans (Bartlett Park, for example), and as a result of my involvement with the City's Housing Roundtable, State Housing Initiatives Program (SHIP) and as the creator of the City's Homeless Task Force (at the request of Steve Kersker, the first Chair of the City's Homeless Task Force) and participant in the Visioning 2000 program, I am a champion of our neighborhoods. This program has been steadily defunded and staff reduced until very little remains today. And, it shows in our struggling neighborhoods.  I would restore it and the neighborhood partnership funding. Our city has many, many caring neighbors in many diverse, unique and special neighborhoods. They should be supported in their efforts to restore all of our neighborhoods in St. Petersburg. I would reenergize the program with additional support from all relevant
departments, such as police, codes, sanitation, traffic, etc.
Bill Foster: No response
Rick Kriseman:St. Petersburg is home to many unique, culturally rich, and historically significant neighborhoods. These neighborhoods deserve the full support of city hall.
As mayor, I will encourage effective and influential neighborhood associations by funding the Neighborhood Partnership Grants program and support staff and treating our Codes Compliance Assistance Department as a budget priority.  As we continue to emerge from the economic downturn and related budget cuts, we must look to restore funding to the areas that were hit the hardest, and that includes Codes.
My goal is for each neighborhood or area to have its own vibe, to be its own destination. Visually appealing signage at neighborhood entrances and wayfaring signage in populated areas is an easy first step and a resource for both residents and visitors.  But to truly strengthen the identity of a neighborhood we must better promote its distinct flavor and help tell its story.
My Thoughts:Every now and then either through blind luck, good fortune or Devine intervention the right person gets picked for a task. Mayor Fisher selected Mike Dove to lead and build the neighborhood concept. There could not have been a better choice.
I was on the City Staff when Mayor Fisher introduced the neighborhood concept. It was not all that well received by City Staff, since the public now had direct access to this new an untested strong mayor.
On any given day, Mike Dove was your best friend or worst enemy depending on how you treated the neighborhoods. He quickly built an outstanding team, gained the confidence of the neighborhood leaders and as the old cliché goes  the rest is history.
The influence of the neighborhoods on public policy and practical application soared during the Fisher administration.
Mayor Baker began to put some downward pressure on neighborhood influence, because to many they had become too powerful in controlling policy. Baker directed their energy in the neighborhoods into useful projects, added them into his Baker plan and all in all it was a successful relationship.
Mayor Foster almost immediately began minimizing the influence of the neighborhoods and especially CONA. All though the case can be made CONA was often its own worst enemy, Foster reduced their access, reduced the neighborhood support staff and essentially eliminated a lot of valuable input.
Mayor Foster did not reply to the question.
Kathleen Ford has been a part of the neighborhood association process and understands it from the ground up. Her commitment to rebuild the neighborhood office and support the program by involving all city departments is sound. It will take some time but it would pay big dividends.
Rick Kriseman was on City Council during the period when strong neighborhood associations developed and should  understand their value. His answer seems a bit more cosmetic and less practical.
To really work the neighborhood concept best follows the Fisher model. It has to be put in place and backed operationally by the full force of the strong Mayor's office, or the City departments will simply ignore the neighborhood input.
 Neighborhood associations and CONA can be pesky and detail focused. They want what they want and dealing with them can be time consuming and problematic. If your focus is more on the big picture or politics or you're unwilling to staff and fund the program then the neighborhoods become ineffective.
With Foster the neighborhood associations and CONA will likely continue to have little influence.
With Ford they will have an seat at the table and play an active policy and operational role.
Their role with Kriseman is less certain. He details some specifics, but does not indicate a willingness to bring the neighborhoods back into the governing process.
It is important to note that Mayoral candidates are voted on City wide in the Primary election on August 27 and in the  November 5, 2013 general election. Be sure to vote for the Mayoral candidate of your choice.
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Campaign Disclosures: Contributor to Kathleen Ford Campaign, Darden Rice Campaign, Concern Citizens of St. Petersburg
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