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Charter panel asks public to chime in

St. Petersburg's review of the city's fundamental law will include a chance for residents to offer suggestions and insights.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Maybe City Council members should get a full-time salary instead of part-time pay. Maybe some city executives should be automatically fired whenever a new mayor is elected. Maybe city ordinances should come with an expiration date.

Or maybe not.

The St. Petersburg Charter Review Commission is putting all those ideas and a couple dozen others on a menu for the public to think about and then debate at two public hearings in May.

Members hope the long list of possible changes to the city's blueprint for government will jump-start those discussions. An average city resident might not know where to start if you asked him or her how the structure of city government should be changed.

"When I say charter review, people's eyes glaze over," Kris Self, a commission member, said Wednesday.

This summer, the commission likely will narrow the list to a few ideas, then put them directly on the ballot to be accepted or rejected by city voters. Every six years, such a commission is appointed to look over the charter and suggest changes.

This commission has heard from City Council members, Mayor David Fischer, City Attorney John Wolfe and other city insiders since it began meeting in February. Commission members have brought many of their own ideas to the table. But the series of rambling, philosophical discussions has been held when many people are at work.

"That's one reason we're pounding on this list, so people get some idea what we're discussing," Chairman Randy Wedding said.

The commission will finalize its list of discussion items Wednesday at its 4 p.m. meeting, but here are some more of the ideas already included:

Scrapping the "strong mayor" form of government, instituted here in 1993, and returning to the city manager form, where a hired executive would run the government day to day.

Expanding the City Council from eight to nine members, with the new member assigned to represent the city at large rather than a particular district.

Giving City Council members the formal right to gather information directly from city staff members. (Fischer informally allows this, but under the charter, he or a future mayor could forbid it as meddling.)

Hiring a staff or legal counsel for City Council, independent of the mayor.

Moving the mayoral election from March to another time of year.

Tweaking words or sentences of the charter in several places for clarity or housekeeping.

The commission's two public hearings will be held 4-6 p.m. May 17 and 6-8 p.m. May 25, both in the City Council chambers at City Hall.

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