Monday, September 30, 2013

Council Member District 8 Candidates Answer Your Questions

 
A while back I asked you to submit some Questions for the Candidates in the general election  for Mayor and City Council. First let me thank those you who took the time to comment or send me an e-mail.

A word of caution: This is a long Post. The responding candidates have taken the time to provide in-depth answers to your questions.

Below are the  five questions from citizens, critical to St. Petersburg's future.

1. Specifically with details, what you  would do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?

2. How will you work to bring neighborhoods back into the decision process? What would be your goals for neighborhood participation?

3. Should it turn out that the public's desire is to rehab the existing Inverted Pyramid, how will support that effort and how will you proceed?

4. We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?
5. Jobs, education and crime are all problems we agree that affect South St. Pete. What else specifically would you do to improve the quality of life for all south side residents?

 Here are the response from the District 8 candidates Amy Foster and Steve Galvin.

The answers were Posted as I received them with NO editing. 
 
Amy Foster
 
1. Specifically with details, what you would do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?

First and foremost, every one of us should feel safe walking in their neighborhoods and that will be my first priority as your councilmember. St. Petersburg has added more territory over the years, our issues have changed, and we need more officers and different staffing models to address the issues. I’ll work to bring back the community policing model and focus on proactive policing tactics. I also support targeting hot spots and using data to drive decision making.

The police department cannot achieve safe neighborhoods alone-we must all actively participate in identifying problems and finding solutions. I will work with all stakeholders to address these issues and engage them in the process. We must address our transit and commercial corridors and other dead zones and areas of unsightly blight. Beautiful neighborhoods are safer neighborhoods and together we can make that happen.

 In order to deal with public safety issues, we must address the root cause of the issue-that means creating more jobs and providing more opportunities for our youth-that is why I have dedicated my platform to these areas. Research shows that when youth are engaged in positive out of school time activities they are less likely to commit crimes, less likely to try drugs or alcohol, and less likely to become pregnant. I will support youth afterschool programs in a parks and recreation centers, summer programs, youth internship programs, and apprenticeship opportunities for both youth and adults.

Lastly, I am committed to cleaning up nuisance properties in our city-that includes budget motels and rental properties. I have proposed a number of ideas for strengthening our nuisance ordinances, including adopting a tracking system that measures properties draw on city services using a room to call ratio plan, and holding performance bonds on the worst properties to pay for services above and beyond their fair share. Other cities across the country have done this, and locally, both Madeira Beach and Dunedin are exploring some similar nuisance ordinances I would like to see enacted in St. Petersburg.

2. How will you work to bring neighborhoods back into the decision process? What would be your goals for neighborhood participation?

St. Petersburg has a rich history with many active and engaged people, neighborhoods, and communities. Residents deserve responsive city services and my vision for moving St. Petersburg forward includes open, accessible communication with city government, businesses, neighborhood associations, and residents to identify and solve problems collectively. Neighborhoods and engaged citizens have traditionally been able to solve problems that government can’t solve alone. I think we need to build upon this asset and also help develop neighborhood associations where they are fledging or no leadership is available.

My job is all about scaling success and I see a rich opportunity in our neighborhoods to share best practices, build community, and help each other in the process. One example locally includes Historic Kenwood working with Central Oak Park and North Kenwood as their neighborhood associations reformed. The presidents all communicate regularly, have shared speakers and ideas for forming crime watches, and even hosted a joint meeting for Greenlight Pinellas. I’d like to see the city and CONA take a more active role in facilitating this type of collaboration, as well as an active role in recruiting leadership for neighborhoods when it is non-existent.

I’m a big believer in cross agency collaboration. We need someone within the city that helps coordinate neighborhoods, that also works with codes, nuisance abatement, the police officers, etc. Former neighborhood association leaders have asked for a return of Neighborhood Planning Teams and I can see where this cross agency approach is deeply needed-especially if you are a new association.

I would build on the city’s neighborhood revitalization efforts by increasing the use of N-Team Assistance and increase funding for neighborhood partnership grants. Both programs leverage resources by utilizing volunteers and the sweat equity of residents and other caring committed individuals. I would find additional funding for the neighborhood partnership grants through the use of Weeki Wachee funds or by streamlining of other processes like billing and collections. I will prioritize funding based on the biggest need and the best return on investment to have the biggest impact. I have expertise in federal grant writing and will use this experience to solicit funds for projects as needed. I am also really excited by new crowd funding platforms like Citizenvestor which can help fund projects cities don’t have funding for.

3. Should it turn out that the public's desire is to rehab the existing Inverted Pyramid, how will support that effort and how will you proceed?

I support soliciting significant public input in order to determine the best way forward for St. Pete’s waterfront and the pier. If the majority of our city would like to see the current inverted pyramid rehabbed, I would support this direction if the project can be completed within the allocated resources, without requiring a substantial subsidy that supports private businesses, and includes the functions that the public desires. One of my major concerns is that all models presented reflect the budget we have available so the public can make the most informed decision possible.

4. We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?

Preparing our next generation of leaders is a central tenet of my platform-and one my opponent felt did not belong in a city council race (stating I should just run for school board). We have to focus on our schools if we want to retain the residents we have and attract others to relocate to our great city. We must ensure our residents have the 21st Century skills required to succeed today. Creating jobs won’t help if the skills gap continues to widen. We need to work in collaboration with our schools to increase graduation rates and encourage pursuit of higher education, trade certifications, and apprenticeships. I will support enrichment programs that not only decrease skills gaps but also keep kids off the street from 3-6 PM which helps with public safety issues. I will bring forward proposals to strengthen the programs already in place to include a focus on early education and science, technology, engineering and math. Having a ready and educated workforce encourages businesses to locate here and makes our city stronger.

My entire career has been committed to building public private partnerships in education and workforce development. I will actively leverage national relationships I have to secure grant funding for programs and I am already working with community leaders to identify and apply for some of these opportunities. I will encourage local corporations to provide financial support to extended school day programs as well as to provide role models in the classroom and for important site visits. One of the national programs considering expansion is Citizen Schools-and this would be an excellent partnership for our city. Citizen Schools partners with public middle schools in low-income communities to provide an expanded learning day, rich with opportunities and engaging local citizens in the process. I’ve seen the results of what partnerships like the one I describe above does every day with the states with which I work. I’d like to see our local government take a more proactive role to grow our next generation of leaders and keep them here.
5. Jobs, education and crime are all problems we agree that affect South St. Pete. What else specifically would you do to improve the quality of life for all south side residents?

I believe we have much work to do to ensure that residents in South St. Pete have access to quality schools, services, jobs, and safe neighborhoods and I look forward to the day that our city is no longer described with divisions like “South St. Petersburg”. Residents in South St. Pete lack sufficient access to healthcare, food, jobs, and transportation. I believe we need to start focusing our efforts on preventing poverty rather than focusing our investments on interventions. I support the development of a CRA TIF District and the Agenda 2020 plan to help address the health of Midtown. I have been engaged in public meetings on these topics to stay abreast of developments. Investment will be necessary and public engagement and buy-in from community stakeholders will be essential. I’m largely concerned about the increasing access to transportation in the area as well as addressing the food dessert issues largely found only on the South side of our city. As with most other complex issues, in order to create systemic change a multi-prong approach is key. A few key priority focus areas should include:

· New commercial development and city infrastructure support

· Increased access to transportation

· Reducing blight in neighborhoods

· Forming and/or strengthening neighborhood associations

· Broadening community policing to reduce crime

· Workforce development, training, and apprenticeships for hard to employ segments of the labor force

· Support growth of local businesses

· Focus on education and out of school time enrichment opportunities, including summer employment and year round internships (as discussed in an above question). Most importantly focusing on early childhood education opportunities from birth-Age 5.

· Increase health prevention programming for diabetes, HIV, obesity, and heart disease

· Partnering with nonprofits and other social service agencies to engage families in community activities

I also support the creation of a 34th Street South Redevelopment Plan and have been attending meetings to stay informed of the process and developments. The 34th Street South plan will increase the quality of life of South St. Pete residents by increasing their access to services. Both of these plans will take quite some time to come to fruition but many of the above stated priorities don’t have to wait until the plans officially “launch” to start taking action in some areas now.


Steve Galvin:

1. Specifically, what would you do throughout the entirety of St. Pete to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?

I have heard at many candidate forums the desire of the citizens to go back to the community policing model.  Some people seem to think that means having one police officer assigned to the neighborhood who will know all the residents as well as  their on-going problems and who will be available whenever they call him/ her.  That is just not possible because each officer only works one shift in 24 hours and not 7 days a week.   No one wants to call his community police officer  late in the afternoon with a sudden problem only to discover that his shift just ended and he won’t be back on until the day after tomorrow.  Therefore, in some neighborhoods we need no less than 3 officers (one for each shift), and more likely 5, assigned as a community policing team so that every 24 hours is covered.   So that an on-going problem does not need to be explained to a new officer by the residents again and again, I would request that there  be better established methods of communication between officers going off shift and the ones coming on. 

Before we do anything, we must identify our needs and our resources.  All neighborhoods in our City do not experience the same type or frequency of crime.  Overall, the City has experienced a decrease in violent crime, but there are still areas of town that require a more concentrated effort with the goal of eliminating the problems entirely and not simply driving the crime to a new location.  Presumably, we have experts in law enforcement techniques employed in our police dept. already.  They need to sit down with the mayor and council members   to outline separate plans to target the types of crimes specific to each neighborhood in the City.  Citizens must also take the responsibility of apprising their representatives on council of the criminal activity in their neighborhood.   For example,  Meadowlawn seems to have a greater problem with Code violations, such as individuals operating non-stop garage sales at a few houses or the storing of junk, debris or in-operable vehicles at their residence,  than they do crime.   A more pro-active Code Enforcement Dept. would be beneficial there and that should include some form of weekend Codes personnel because too many violators know how to work the system.   Citizens should know, too, that they can report code violations anonymously on-line on the City’s website and that Code enforcement staff will respond.

On a section along 34th and 35th Streets near my home in N. Kenwood and the Central Oak Park neighborhood, drugs, theft and prostitution have continued to plague the area since before the current councilman took office 8 years ago.  His endorsement of my opponent makes me worry that nothing will get better if she is elected.    A stronger police presence consisting of officers patrolling in cars during certain hours is necessary to stop and prevent that type of criminal activity.  The motel owners are not necessarily the problem and are often victims as well of emboldened criminals,  who know just how long it takes for police to respond to a call.  Residents in each block know which houses have drugs being dealt from them and which motels are enabling prostitution.  Citizens become frustrated and angry when they report the criminal activity and nothing is ever done.    I would like to see our police department utilize narcotics and prostitution task forces that will act on our citizens’ information, whether it be either surreptitiously or openly watching a drug house, conducting a controlled buy, or doing a prostitution sting at the motel that has the semi-trucks always filling the parking lot.   

  For areas of the City experiencing gang related activity, the first thing we must do is acknowledge that such groups exist.  In the past, our police dept. has targeted these loosely organized groups in some neighborhoods (Bartlett Park, Auburn Park, Harbordale), but a permanent police presence is the key to developing a trust between them and the children of the community before those kids are tempted by gangs.   Throughout my campaign I have been proposing satellite police stations in neighborhoods with high crime rates  (perhaps operating from 3 PM – 4 AM) so that there will be an obvious, constant police presence.  The officers assigned to the neighborhood station will be able to develop a rapport with the children, people will know where to go for help,  and both residents and criminals will know that response time is going to be quick.  With the officers being a part of the community, it is expected that they will become aware of the identity and habits of known drug dealers and gang members there and will be in a better position to stop their activities and arrest them.   

In other areas of the City, crime consists of daytime, residential burglaries.  Citizens watching out for their neighbors, knowing them well enough to at least have a phone number to call them during the day when a suspicious vehicle is seen in the driveway when the neighbor is usually at work, is what is necessary to prevent crime and make us all safer.  Criminals rely on us not wanting to get involved, and if a crime happens to you, you must do what I have done and show up at the police station to press charges and show up at the courthouse to testify so that the perpetrator is sent to jail. 

When it comes to reducing crime and making the City safe, it is obvious that one solution does not fit all and the answer is not necessarily more police officers.   For some areas, such as our downtown, safety has been found in numbers of people and increased activity.  But what has happened for Beach Drive and Central Avenue must be extended west.  We have a great asset in Williams Park, but it is vastly underutilized and people do not feel safe going there.  Encouraging regular activity in the park will change that:  the City should schedule weekend performances in the bandshell,  Shakespeare in the Park should be on the stage there in the spring instead of at Demen’s Landing (the parking garage next to MSC could be used), install a splash pad for the children to play in the water in the summer, and erect a carousel with the figures carved by local artists as they recently did in Boston.  Eliminating the PSTA bus hub at the park will also help.   The City should also encourage different types of vending carts to operate in and at the corners of the park.

2.     How will you work to bring neighborhoods back into the decision process?  What would be your goals for neighborhood participation?

I support the methods employed by the Pier Task Force and the People’s Budget Review.  Even the multiple meetings about the Lens moderated by different council members was helpful, particularly the one with Charlie Gerdes because he made an effort to be unbiased.     While holding multiple meetings on the same topic is certainly not the most efficient way to get something done, it is the only way in a city our size with a  busy population to get as many  different neighborhoods as possible participating in the decision process.  The meetings must be brought to the people and the City administration must well publicize them and far in advance.  Our local clergy can be invaluable and should be asked by City staff to assist in publicizing meetings and encouraging people to get involved.  They are respected members of their communities and reach a lot of people each week. Publication in church bulletins and an announcement from the pulpit about issues and projects  affecting the neighborhood should be requested by City administration.  For too long it has seemed that the mayor and council members prefer not to have the “interference” of the people in their decision making that impacts us all.   I was in favor of, and am  encouraged by Council’s recent approval of, the Citizen Voting Platform offered by St. Pete Polls in which citizens can call in and express their opinion on city projects in a multiple choice format.   

Unfortunately, not all neighborhoods have particularly well attended association meetings.  The CONA website provides space for all the neighborhoods to post their meetings and events, but no one bothers to update many of them.  I would like to see the City post each neighborhood association’s regular meeting dates and places on its website.    My wife and I belong to our neighborhood association and we attend the meetings.  As a councilman, my goal is to attend the meetings of each neighborhood association in my district every month so that my constituents will know that they can speak with me personally on the issues that concern them.

3. Should it turn out that the public’s desire is to rehab the existing Inverted Pyramid, how will you support that effort and how will you proceed?

I would fully support that effort because I believe that it is the most fiscally responsible course of action and based on recent polls, it is the preferred choice of our citizens.  It is well known and documented that the approach to the Pier, as well as the apron around the Pier head, need to be replaced.  It has also been recognized, since core samples were taken and analyzed, that the 4 steel encased “super caissons” supporting the Inverted Pyramid are structurally sound.  So is the steel superstructure of the Inverted Pyramid itself.

Therefore, I would propose that the approach be replaced with one narrower than the current 100’ width in order to keep replacement costs down.  Parking cars the length of the approach as we have been doing creates a huge unnecessary expense when you calculate that 20 feet of approach is needed to park one car.  Not to mention the additional weight load requirements to consider when engineering the new approach design.  I would advocate for an electric/solar “people mover” design, such as that used at theme parks, to ferry folks who can’t or don’t wish to walk to the Pier head.   It would be more energy efficient, greener, and require less space than the trolleys we’ve used in the past.  Since the scope of this project would require it to be FEMA compliant, the original first floor and the 1st floor retail area addition would not be able to include permanent retail space.  One idea would be to remove the 1st floor addition that was added years after the Pyramid was built, which would address the FEMA requirements for that square footage.  All that would be left to comply would be the 1st story of the Pyramid itself.   We could make it open space and allow vendors to operate there like they do at the Saturday morning market.  We could create a vibrant, yet non-permanent, retail experience in that way, selling fresh fish, produce, flowers, and baked goods like they do at many municipal piers throughout the country such as Pike’s Market in Seattle or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  This would also allow our downtown residents a broad selection of fresh fare that should entice more of them to utilize that Pier more frequently for food shopping.

As the Inverted Pyramid was originally engineered to be 2 stories taller than it currently is, we could add an additional top floor that would recoup the lost retail square footage from the first floor. Now that the Aquarium is no longer on the Pier, that massive weight load (water) and heat load (metal halide lighting) is no longer creating an excessive drain on the electrical and HVAC resources of the structure.  I would encourage incorporating a significant solar element in the refurbished design to honor our commitment to being a “green” city and save on the expense of air conditioning the structure.

I would like to see the City’s Downtown Development staff be active in soliciting at least one nationally known restaurant that fits in with a waterfront location to occupy space in the Pyramid, such as a Margaritaville or a Legal Seafood.  Having a nationally known restaurant attracts more diners and tourists view it as a safe choice.  Since the wait for tables is often long, the surrounding, independently owned restaurants will benefit from the overflow of diners not wanting to wait for a table.  We have many great restaurants along Beach Drive, but some family friendly, reasonably priced options are also needed and the Pier is a good place for them.  

Most importantly, the public needs to be brought into the conversation and given a voice and a choice on how our municipal Pier will look and operate for the next 50 years.  I will proceed by insisting that the public be kept fully informed on what the options are and how much the project will cost the taxpayers.  A decision as important as this should not be made by a handful of people or non-residents.   

 4. We have a number of problem schools in St. Petersburg. Specifically what will you do to help improve those schools?

Like a few of the other candidates in this race for City Council, I do not have any children in our public school system.  Therefore, we should not assume that we have a full grasp of the causes of the problems in each school or that we know the solutions without lengthy conversations with the school administrators and the parents.  The City must establish a good line of communication with the Pinellas Co. School Board so that we can determine what resources and capabilities we have that can benefit those schools.  I would ask that administrators from the problem schools be invited to meet with the Council and the Mayor so that the people most familiar with the issues will have the opportunity to tell us how we as a City can help.  Community wide commitment and instilling an expectation of excellence in the parents, children and teachers is crucial.  Getting parents more involved with their children’s education is part of the solution.  It has been brought to my attention that public transportation to School Board meetings is deficient.  PSTA can get one to the meetings, but there is no bus home. However, the City does not own either the school buses or the PSTA buses.  Here is where the City’s employment of a full time staff person to apply for grants could be beneficial.  Such effort could yield one that would pay for free direct transportation for parents in the poorer communities to and from School Board meetings where they could have a voice in the operation of their children’s school and become more involved.  

I was surprised and disappointed to learn that only 4 of 29 schools in our City had at least 70% of students reading at grade level.  Though I realize that it does not improve a school per se, my wife and I have been, and continue to be, volunteers with Lawyers for Literacy where we tutor third graders in reading at New Heights Elementary.  If more people took just an hour or two out of their week to give to students in the problem schools to tutor them in reading or math, the skills of the students, and thus the schools, would improve.  As I have been saying throughout my campaign, one does not have to wait to run or be elected to office in order to help one’s community.  Though sitting on various boards making decisions for others is one way to volunteer, my way has always been to pitch in, get my hands dirty, and have face to face interaction with those in need.  The City can encourage community service within our schools by offering free tickets to City events or even a reduction in water bills in exchange for a certain number of tutoring or volunteer hours at the problem schools.  The City (Mayor and Council) should extend a challenge to other professions to do what the lawyers have done and inspire the bankers, engineers, realtors, and medical professionals, for example, to form tutoring groups to go into the schools and raise reading levels and math skills.

I have been an admirer of former Mayor Baker’s success at leveraging resources and partnering various businesses in the community with our schools to obtain the equipment and supplies they needed. He limited the participation to only 100 businesses to boost the attractiveness of the program and to maintain the quality of the partnerships.  I would like to see that effort continued.    


5. Jobs, education and crime are all problems we agree that affect South St. Pete. What else specifically would you do to improve the quality of life for all south side residents?

Assuming from the question that the problems related to jobs, education and crime have been addressed, the quality of life for Southside residents could be improved by the addition of retail and service businesses to the area.  The new Walmart Neighborhood Grocery should have a bank branch inside of it just like Southtrust Bank used to have teller service inside of the Albertson’s.  Quality of life would be improved if citizens who are working two jobs or do not have reliable transportation could accomplish their necessary daily errands without having to travel to another area of the city to do so.  The City Council cannot force businesses to set up in locations that the company may not find economically advantageous, but the City does have the power to at least establish a cashier’s window in an easily accessible location in the Southside or Midtown within an existing establishment where the residents can pay their water bills.  The City could also simplify the process of setting up a recurring payment of one’s water bill.  Instead of having to take a blank check down to Municipal Services, it should be able to be done online from home and without a “convenience fee”.   That just makes people angry when they’re struggling to pay their basic bills.

The Greenhouse needs to work with existing small business owners and people interested in starting a business in the area to introduce them to each other and the resources of each so that needed services, such as a nail salon, could partner with an existing business like a hair salon.  We could also consider working with interested developers on City-owned properties in the area to create environments for businesses to locate to. 

The City could also target some of the desirable retail corridors for right-of-way enhancements that would further improve the desirability to perspective business owners in the area.  I believe that the 34th St. Community Redevelopment Area designation could be a great way to offer more of the desired and needed businesses to Midtown and the Southside.  Some decent restaurants would be a good start as there are few choices other than fast food for almost 100 blocks of 34th Street.  But, we need to be careful that it does not lead to a gentrification of the area as a whole and begin to price people out of their own homes and neighborhoods.

As a small business owner who started his first business in retail, it would certainly be attractive to me to open a retail business or service-related business if I knew that the City was willing to work with me while I got my business established.  For many people who start their first business, the processes of dealing with the City can be cumbersome and often unclear.  Sign ordinances for example may need to be rethought so as to make St. Petersburg a more retail-friendly City in which to thrive.  I have had many small business owners complain to me on the campaign trail about sign issues and being able to display some of their wares in front of their businesses.

Be sure to comment below or you can e-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net, or send me a Facebook Friend request.

Campaign Disclosures: Contributor to Kathleen Ford Campaign, Darden Rice Campaign, Concern Citizens of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman for Mayor, District 2 Lorraine Margeson
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