Voters say no to closed-district voting, as only 2 of 7 amendments OK’d in St. Pete

Choices ranged from changing how City Council is elected to creating racial and economic equity programs.

Voters in St. Petersburg Tuesday said no to five amendments to the City Charter.

Seven amendments were on the ballot offering changes to how City Council is elected, how the city approaches racial and economic equity and more.

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 how St. Pete voted:

No on Amendment I: Limiting City Council elections to voters in the applicable Council District and making related changes 

This was one of the most talked about amendments on the ballot.  It failed with just 41% of the vote.

Under the current election process, 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.

No on Amendment II: Establishing new Process for Drawing District Boundaries for Election of City Council Members 

This was one of several amendments on the ballot addressing equity, which was a major theme among proposed changes. It failed with just under 43% support.

Under current requirements, City Council can replace recommended boundaries through a unanimous vote. The proposed change would have subjected the redistricting process to public record laws and would have required City Council to approve the new boundaries unless they conflict with applicable law.

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.”

So voters were asked if the city should “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?”

No on 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. Ultimately, about 56% of St. Pete residents disagreed.

The amendment asked voters if they wanted to establish an equity framework intended to address those equity gaps. The failed framework would have included an equity action plan implemented at citywide and departmental levels, regular assessment and reporting, and the creation of a Chief Equity Officer for the City.

The charter commission brought the question up after the 2019 study found 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.”

The equity gaps were costly. The study found St. Pete’s economy could have been $3.6 billion stronger in 2016.

The amendment would have created a new position, a Chief Equity Officer, to oversee implementation of an equity plan called for under the amendment. The Mayor will would have appointed the officer, subject to City Council confirmation. Under the amendment, the Mayor could have removed the officer from position with majority approval from City Council.

No on Amendment IV: Establishing a Requirement for Charter-Protected Equity Funding 

Though a separate question, this amendment goes along with Amendment III by establishing a funding source for the equity action plan voters rejected.

It failed with 43% support.

Voters were asked whether the city should designate “Charter-protected equity funding” to address equity gaps and prevent that funding from being used for other purposes. The amendment would not have prohibited the City from funding equity-related initiatives with other, unrestricted funding.

Yes on Amendment V: Establishing new Requirements Related to City Administrator, City Clerk, and City Council Administrative Officer 

St. Pete voters decided 58% to 52% to adopt this amendment eliminating some redundant language in the charter, adding some requirements for the city administrator and clarifying the city clerk’s duties.

The most substantive change in the amendment adds a residency requirement for the City Administrator.

Yes on Amendment VI: Changing the City’s Charter-Review Process to Avoid Conflict with Redistricting and make other Improvements 

With more than 70% of the vote, St. Pete chose to change the timing of the charter review process, which now runs 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 offsets the processes by two years, giving time for charter amendments to be implemented before redistricting begins.

It also adds more guidelines to the charter review process, such as new requirements to avoid conflicts and improve integrity of the commission. The amendment restricts elected officials or candidates from participating and requires statements of financial interest.

No on Amendment VII: Adding a preamble to describe the spirit of the Charter and the City’s governing philosophy 

St. Pete will not add a preamble in its charter. The amendment failed with 53% opposition.

St. Pete’s charter was created in 1975. The commission recommended adding language that 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.”

The preamble read:

“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.”

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected].


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