A Better St. Pete

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

I have said throughout this campaign that I love the City of St. Petersburg but that I love its potential even more. 

Everywhere I go, behind every door I knock on, I meet people who feel the same way I do. They love living here, but they know something is missing. They know we’re not reaching our full potential. In many cases, they feel like we’ve lost momentum.

This is a great city, but we must do even better.

In the mayor’s office, we need some new energy, new ideas and a new vision that will save more tax money and create more jobs.

I have specific ideas.

Throughout my career and this campaign, my approach on key issues has been to listen, to learn, and lead.

That is the approach that is needed and an approach that led to the proposals I recently announced.

A big part of this campaign has been about restoring leadership and vision and decisiveness to the mayor’s office.  But those are big words. 

So, what does it mean?

It starts inside City Hall.

As mayor, I will implement StPeteStat, based on the CitiStat model of statistics-driven accountability standards.

Building on the city’s current Scorecard measures, StPeteStat will consist of regular meetings, during which my staff and I will meet with department heads to examine and analyze past performance, future performance objectives, and overall performance strategies. Performance goals will be set, managers and workers will be held accountable, and results will be measured — not yearly, but monthly or even week-to-week.  

And since citizen concerns are the basis of effective performance measurements, StPeteStat will incorporate the current Action Online – similar to how other cities have incorporated 311 non-emergency calls into their CitiStat programs.

Local governments all across America have increased efficiency and effectiveness while saving taxpayer money because of the CitiStat model.

In its first 7 years, this type of management program saved the City of Baltimore $350 million dollars. 

The City of Chicago saved $20 million in the first year they implemented CitiStat.

In its first year of operation, SyraStat reportedly saved Syracuse, NY $14 million.

In one year, Louisvlle’s LouieStat led to $1.46 million in savings in overtime.

Some cities, like Fort Wayne, have used the savings to give bonuses to city workers for meeting performance goals.

StPeteStat won’t start on day one. But it will start and it will grow.

It also won’t be our only means of saving money.

We must continue to seek out partnerships both with the private sector and other governments.

As a city councilmember, I worked closely with Mayor Baker to bring the West St. Pete Community Library to fruition, a joint-use facility that satisfied the needs of both our city and St. Pete College. 

I helped to bring EcoZones to St. Petersburg, a unique public-private partnership that funded important technologies and solutions to improve our local environment in the areas of air, water, energy and green space. Programs were paid for via the temporary placement of educational outdoor signage, and at no additional cost to taxpayers.

These are just two examples of how a little creativity and collaboration can move us forward.

And when it makes sense, especially fiscal sense, we should look at consolidations. While in the Florida House, I authored legislation – which later became law – that merged Pinellas County’s land and transportation planning organizations.  

Now, we can’t just pursue these types of partnerships and consolidations when times are tough.  This is about being proactive.

And it’s about looking for savings both large and small.

For example, we can save additional taxpayer money simply by being more energy efficient. In the near term, that means resolving negotiations with Duke Energy to switch out 30,000 of our street light bulbs to LED in order to save approximately $1.8 million dollars.

There are public safety implications here, as well.

Improved street lighting is an effective tool for preventing crime.

So regardless of our negotiations with Duke, we must continue upgrading to Brighter LEDs on our streets and in our alleys – and we’ll save money in the process.

And finally, because of the intense competition for dollars, having a full-time, experienced grant writer on staff – and keeping them on staff - is vital to keeping pace. This individual will be directed to aggressively pursue both government and foundation grants.

This is funding we are losing to other cities.  We have to fight for our fair share.

Of course, the best way for our community to thrive is by growing our local economy.

One of the things I’ve talked a lot about in this campaign is building on the consortium known as the St. Pete Ocean Team and formalizing it as a Research Park. 

Linking some of our most important and impressive institutions – like USF’s Marine Sciences, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, NOAA, and SRI, to name a few – the St. Pete Ocean Team cluster is already a powerful economic driver.

And yet it’s nowhere near its full potential.

I’m encouraged that many of our community leaders recognize this and that there have been discussions to incorporate our nearby hospitals in order to create a single research district with public spaces and amenities.

To me, an important component of such a project is our port.

For too long, our port has been underutilized and underappreciated.  I envision it being the premier research vessel hub for the entire Gulf Coast.

And we don’t need to expand the port – we just need to better equip it. It needs infrastructure around it, access to electricity and water, and perhaps a few dorm rooms and labs for visiting scientists.

A renewed port may also be able to accommodate a future water taxi service to Tampa or Sarasota.

Now, one final thought on the research district: As SRI and others have proven, the clean and renewable energy industry is a natural fit for this type of district.

The Dome Industrial District and parts of West St. Pete are also ideal for the light manufacturing associated with many clean-tech jobs.

In fact, with solar power-related jobs outpacing the rest of the U.S. Economy and solar energy consumption rapidly increasing, St. Petersburg has a decision to make. 

Are we going to be out front or are we going to be left behind? 

To me, this is easy. We are the Sunshine City. As mayor, I will work to make us a magnet for clean energy jobs and a member of my administration will be dedicated to bringing these jobs to St. Petersburg.

I will also work to improve our public schools because doing so will have a direct and positive impact on our economy.

Corporations looking to relocate and relocate their employees are going to take a city’s schools into consideration. And quality schools mean a quality workforce for corporations and small businesses to hire from.

One of the ways City Hall can influence public education is by working with Pinellas County Schools to incorporate community service activities into the classroom curriculum.

There’s plenty of data that indicates that service activities increase attendance rates, decrease suspensions, improve GPAs, and enhance social consciousness. 

This needs to be a place where children learn, not just live.

But we need to make sure it's a great place to live, too.

There’s been a lack of focus on the very thing that defines St. Petersburg – our neighborhoods.

That focus will return when I’m mayor. I will restore funding and restore the high-ranking position overseeing neighborhood services.

Strong, vibrant neighborhoods are vital to our everyday quality of life.

As is public safety.

Nothing I do as mayor will be more important than keeping our residents and visitors safe.

That’s why I will put an end to a chase policy that resulted in one of our officers traveling at 110 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour neighborhood.

And while I would like us to return to a community-policing model, I am open-minded to whatever approach ensures responsiveness to our residents and also strengthens the officer-resident relationship. Moving back toward community policing does not mean abandoning the use of innovative technologies like predictive policing.

I look forward to selecting and working with our next chief to put a plan in place that will make St. Pete safer.

And in return, City Hall will support the new chief by doing all we can. In addition to some of the things I touched on earlier – like education, we need to strengthen our codes department and expedite the demolition of condemned homes because we know that blight invites crime.

And because we are a coastal city, we need to be better prepared for severe weather and rising sea levels. My administration will begin long-term planning for climate change. This is where public works intersects with public safety.

In summation, we need to save money, we need to stimulate the economy in order to generate revenue, we need to focus on the things that make us special and protect what is sacred.  And we need to be and feel safe.

…All while being mindful that this is a pretty big city, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

Beach Drive and downtown are critical to our prosperity, but there are businesses in West St. Pete waiting for the West Central Avenue Redevelopment Plan to move forward.

And businesses and neighborhood leaders anxious for the 34th Street South Improvement Plan to become a reality.

Residents in Midtown are ready for a 2020 Plan that will bring much-needed investments to their community - with the goal of reducing poverty by 30%, and hopefully lowering their painfully high unemployment rate.

Simply put, we need to be more mindful. We need to be empathetic. We need to understand that the policies and decisions that come out of City Hall have a profound impact on all of our residents.

We need to be better and we need to do better.

We need to fulfill our potential. 

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