Voters in St. Pete will be able to make seven simple, but crucial, choices on amendments to the city’s charter.
The amendments are based on a once-a-decade review of the charter. The charter defines political powers and processes in the city, along with how the Mayor’s office, City Council and other departments interact.
Here’s what’s on the ballot for changes in St. Pete
Amendment I: Limiting City Council elections to voters in the applicable Council District and making related changes
Currently, St. Pete City Council races are limited to voters within the council district for the Primary. But for general elections, anyone in the city can vote for all districts. The charter review commission found this can override the preference of voters in the district, favor wealthier candidates, and limit minority representation.
But critics, including the Tampa Bay Times, which recommended voting “no” on the amendment, argue the current process encourages candidates to find citywide consensus on issues that face all St. Pete residents, not just those in a particular council district.
Here’s the question on the ballot:
“Shall the Charter be amended to (i) limit primary and general elections for Council Members to voters in the Council district, thereby eliminating City-wide voting for Council Members; (ii) allow a candidate receiving more than 50% of votes in the primary to be elected; and (iii) make other clarifying changes?”
Amendment II: Establishing new Process for Drawing District Boundaries for Election of City Council Members
This one is all about equity and fair redistricting. Basically, it would change St. Pete’s process for drawing districts to include more transparency and public input. The proposed change would subject redistricting to public records laws, and require City Council to approve the new boundaries unless they conflict with applicable law.
Under the current system, City Council can replace recommended boundaries through a unanimous vote.
Here, the charter commission found:
“The current process should be replaced with a new process that, generally speaking, is intended to strengthen the independence and integrity of the commission, provide for greater transparency, and establish more equitable district boundaries.”
And here’s the ballot question:
“Shall the City create a new process for establishing City Council district boundaries that (i) uses comprehensive standards for drawing equitable district boundaries; (ii) has requirements and restrictions for appointment, service, communication, and accepting public comment; and (iii) requires City Council to be bound by commission recommendations unless inconsistent with applicable law? The new process would occur every ten years and maintain the existing nine-member citizens commission appointed by the Mayor and Council Members.”
Amendment III: Establishing an Equity Framework and Chief Equity Officer for City government
This amendment comes on the heels of a 2019 equity study. The study found some major equity gaps.
“A long history of racial discrimination and disinvestment in communities of color has created entrenched and persistent racial inequities in employment, income, wealth, education, health, justice, housing, and transportation.”
And equity gaps are costly, the study found St. Pete’s economy could have been $3.6 billion stronger in 2016.
The amendment would create a new position, a Chief Equity Officer, to oversee implementation of an equity plan called for under the amendment. The Mayor would appoint the officer, subject to City Council confirmation, and could remove the officer from position with majority approval from City Council.
Here’s the question:
“Shall the City Charter be amended to establish an equity framework intended to address those equity gaps? That framework must include an equity action plan implemented at City-wide and departmental levels, regular assessment and reporting, and the creation of a Chief Equity Officer for the City.”
Amendment IV: Establishing a Requirement for Charter-Protected Equity Funding
This amendment piggybacks on Amendment III and sets up a funding source for the proposed equity action plan.
Here’s what’s on the ballot:
“Shall the City Charter be amended to require that the City designate “Charter-protected equity funding” to address those equity gaps and prevent that funding from being used for other purposes? This amendment would not prohibit the City from funding equity-related initiatives with other, unrestricted funding.”
Amendment V: Establishing new Requirements Related to City Administrator, City Clerk, and City Council Administrative Officer
This one is pretty straightforward. It eliminates some redundant language in the charter, adds some requirements for the city administrator and clarifies the city clerk’s duties. The most substantive change would add a residency requirement for the City Administrator.
Here’s the question:
“Shall the Charter be amended to (i) add a residency requirement for the City Administrator; (ii) clarify that the City Clerk serves both Mayor and Council and may be removed only with consent of both; (iii) provide the City Council Administrative Officer with duties and protections similar to the City Clerk; and (iv) make related changes?”
Amendment VI: Changing the City’s Charter-Review Process to Avoid Conflict with Redistricting and make other Improvements
Currently, the charter review process happens concurrently with redistricting. The commission found that forces the city to “implement the changes to redistricting in an expedited manner; delay redistricting to implement the changes in full; or conduct redistricting under the prior standards, with the changes implemented only when the next redistricting occurs (which may not be for another ten years).”
This amendment would offset the two processes by two years, giving time for charter amendments to be implemented before redistricting begins. It would also add some more guidelines to the charter review process like new requirements to avoid conflicts and improve integrity of the commission. The amendment would restrict elected officials or candidates from participating and require statements of financial interest.
Critics argue no such conflicts currently exist.
Here’s the language on the ballot:
“Shall the Charter be amended to resolve that scheduling conflict and to make other changes to improve the administration and integrity of the City’s Charter-review process?”
Amendment VII: Adding a preamble to describe the spirit of the Charter and the City’s governing philosophy
The Florida Legislature created St. Pete’s original city charter. The city wasn’t able to make its own until 1975. The 1975 charter is the basis for the current iteration.
Now, the commission recommends adding a preamble to the charter outlining the city’s goals and values and acknowledging past shortcomings. The preamble would declare St. Pete “a city of opportunity for all” with emphasis on creating an “innovative, creative, and competitive community that acknowledges our past while pursuing our future.”
Here’s the preamble that could be added:
“We the people of St. Petersburg, under the constitution and laws of the state of Florida, in order to secure the benefits of local, responsive self-government that provides for the greatest common good, do hereby adopt this Charter. Reflecting our shared vision, St. Petersburg will be a city of opportunity for all who come to live, work, and play. We will be an innovative, creative, and competitive community that acknowledges our past while pursuing our future. Accordingly, this charter will advance the City’s values of civic engagement, inclusive prosperity, and cultural vibrancy in a way that is supported by a shared commitment to equity, environmental stewardship, education, public health, arts, and worldclass recreation. By this action, we secure the benefits of home rule, affirm the values of representative democracy, and assert the importance of inclusive citizen engagement. In keeping with a commitment to more effectively represent the interests of every citizen, we commit that, as frequently as this Charter is reviewed, community members will convene to affirm and improve our structure of government with intentional priority on those self-evident determinants that work to define residents’ opportunities and quality of life. This Charter affirms the City’s values and strives to ensure a living framework to help build an ever more inclusive, engaged St. Petersburg, where everyone experiences belonging, fairness, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.”
And here’s what the question will look like on the ballot:
“Shall the Charter be amended to add a preamble containing a concise statement to describe the spirit of the Charter and the City’s governing philosophy? That aspirational statement will describe the City’s vision, goals, values, and priorities while acknowledging past shortcomings and promising a renewed and continuing commitment to improving the quality of life for all citizens.”