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Voters hold City Council to eight members

In all, two referendum questions and 10 city charter amendments went to the voters. At least one issue may require a recount.

By KELLY RYAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- For city voters, eight is enough.

Just more than 53 percent of voters on Tuesday shot down a proposal that would have added a ninth City Council member who would have been elected at-large. The often-bickering, long-winded council will continue to have just eight members, with each representing a geographic slice of the city.

"I'm not sure that the people wanted a ninth council member to watch," said former mayor Randy Wedding, who led a group that reviewed the charter, which is a blueprint for how city government works.

Voters chose to make this the last St. Petersburg election to take place in February and March. A charter change approved Tuesday moves municipal elections to September and November starting in 2003. Winning candidates will take office in January from now on, not April.

Voters also gave their permission for two schools to use city parks for recreation.

Four-fifths of voters agreed that Campbell Park Elementary School can have exclusive use of 4.6 acres of Campbell Park during the school day.

The school is being rebuilt and expanded as part of the district's plans to slowly end court-ordered busing for desegregation, and the district said the loaned parkland is necessary to have enough space for children to play. The lease will last 99 years and cost the school district a nominal fee.

"I'd say how much we appreciate the Campbell Park Neighborhood Association working with us and assisting us," said Pinellas schools superintendent Howard Hinesley. "It's going to provide the opportunity for a beautiful new school while at the same time doing nothing to infringe on the use of the park."

The Canterbury School of Florida, a private school, will lease eight acres behind the Northeast Treatment Plant for 25 years to build sports fields and a driveway. The city initially will get $9,500 in annual rent, but that will increase when the driveway is built.

In all, two referendum questions and 10 amendments to the city charter appeared on Tuesday's ballot. The referendums were requested by the two schools; the changes to the charter were recommended by the Charter Review Commission, a volunteer nine-member board appointed by the City Council and Mayor David Fischer.

The only charter change that didn't pass was the addition of a ninth council member, but a second, allowing council members direct access to the city's staff, may require a recount of the votes.

By a large margin, voters said it should take a two-thirds vote of the City Council -- rather than the current majority vote -- to remove the mayor from office. Voters agreed that it should take a two-thirds vote of council to override the mayor's veto of a budget item. Voters approved a measure that will extend the mayor's time, from two days to five, to veto council actions.

Charter amendment 3, which would allow council members direct access to city employees to get information, rather than going through the mayor, appeared to pass by just 121 votes out of nearly 45,000 cast. That may require an automatic machine recount today before the outcome is officially declared.

And in future elections, there will be no general election for mayoral candidates if one gets more than 50 percent of the primary vote.

Rather than every four years, the city will redraw council districts every 10 years in conjunction with the release of census data. Rather than meeting every six years, the Charter Review Commission will be required to meet every 10 years. Also, charter commission members will now be required to be city residents. Voters also approved some housekeeping changes to the charter to adhere to the current "strong mayor" form of government.

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