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Petition, staff issues puzzle residents

Petition items go to the Planning Council.

By Nick Johnson, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008


ST. PETE BEACH - Residents were left with mounting questions about the petition items submitted by Save Our Little Village Inc., as well as the future of city staffers after Tuesday's City Commission meeting.

The commission followed the recommendations of attorney Thomas W. Reese, the special counsel assigned to the SOLV case, by passing a resolution to send the six pro-development petition items to the city's Planning Council for review.

The commission was given until today by Circuit Judge David A. Demers to take action on the proposed ordinances after SOLV sued.

Since they were brought by petition, the city charter requires the commission to pass the ordinances, one of which is a revised comprehensive plan, or send them to a vote within 90 days of submission.

Comprehensive plans are usually drafted by city staffers, then go through public hearings and a series of local and state agencies.

This process is required by the state and would pre-empt any charter provisions, according to Reese, who suggested that sending the comprehensive plan to the Planning Council as a first step.

SOLV contends that the petition items must be put to a vote, and chairperson Lorraine Huhn called the decision "another stall tactic."

Another resolution was passed allowing Reese to respond to any lawsuits that might follow the decision, reinforcing the common perception that the final decision will be made in court.

Meanwhile, residents have begun to speak out against the lack of information about six petition items and 500 pages of supporting documents attached to them.

So far, the commission's criticism of the petitions has been based mostly on legal arguments against the process of approving a comprehensive plan brought by petition via referendum vote, and SOLV's public defense of the process has amounted to little more than pro-redevelopment rhetoric.

"I've heard no discussions of what these items are from either side," George Singer said during the audience comments. "I want to hear the issues of what you specifically agree on, not just the legal issues ... that will be decided by the court."

Kevin Hing is another beach resident frustrated by lack of information. He started attending commission meetings after the SOLV petitions were filed so, if necessary, he could make a more informed vote.

"The reason I'm looking into it is because now as a voter I'm responsible to decide on this," Hing said, referring to the city's charter requirement that residents approve major land use changes.

Instead, he has found himself caught between a SOLV supporter and supporters of the pro status-quo political group, the Citizens For Responsible Growth.

"I'm frustrated with CRG because they haven't proposed a plan, and yet they want the city to oppose development. Whereas SOLV has a plan but they aren't providing information that lets me make a good decision, and then there's the commission who is bickering and fighting and not rising above it all," Hing said.

Divisions in the commission were evident after City Manager Mike Bonfield's year-end review, when Commissioner Ed Ruttencutter asked that the commission hold a discussion on his contract.

Some see Ruttencutter's suggestion as an attempt to fire Bonfield.

"If I wanted to fire him, I would have brought it up right there, but that wasn't my intention," Ruttencutter said, adding he simply wanted to discuss Bonfield's contract.

The comment was met with opposition from Commissioner Mike Finnerty and Mayor Ward Friszolowski and casual agreement by Linda Chaney and Harry Metz.

Bonfield asked to move the discussion from the next scheduled commission meeting to a closer date, saying that it would cause concern with the city's staff.

Termination of his contract, which runs through January 2010, would cost about $250,000.

The item is scheduled for discussion Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

[Last modified February 16, 2008, 23:46:14]

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