Tuesday, October 2, 2012

For Bill Foster Updates, Read the Times

When we started Bill Foster Watch last year, it was out of frustration with the Mayor, and the media's lack of coverage of his many stumbles. Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Times shifted away from supporting Mayor Foster on most issues and they began to openly attack him. The Times has done such a good job of covering the Mayor recently and holding his feet to the fire on so many issues like the reimbursement for the RNC pre-party and the lack of leadership on the budget, that we at BillFosterWatch are just left in awe of how well the Times is doing our job for us. We counted no less than 12 articles exposing Bill Foster's stumbles in the last month alone, with the last being this editorial published on Saturday entitled "Poor leadership at budget crunch time". The Times places blame on both council and the Mayor, but other recent columns and articles make it clear that they blame Foster much more than council.
We hope that the Times keeps this up through the election next year, because if they do, we might be Foster-free in 2013!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mayor Foster's Parents "Hate Everything About" The Lens Pier

Yesterday afternoon, architect Michael Maltzan came to present an update to City Council about the progress being made on the new Lens pier project. Not much has changed in the last few months: still no new pictures, they are still using images of clear water in the "reef" area of the pier, they are still using generic images to describe features they are thinking about putting in the Lens pier. We counted over a dozen non-committal responses to questions asked by council members, including: "still under consideration", "to be determined", "we're studying that", "it is a topic of research of things to be looked at", "we are looking into that", and on and on.

Only a few new pieces of information came out at this 2-hour meeting. The first is that the bids came in to demolish the existing pier, they were between $2.9 - $6.8 million, within the budgeted $4.5 million amount, but WAY below the city-estimated $13 million figure that convinced city council to vote to destroy the inverted pyramid pier two years ago(we would think this big of a mistake by a city employee would result in some kind of disciplinary action, but disciplinary action doesn't appear to exist in Bill Foster's city administration).

The next new piece of information was about the expected subsidy for the new Lens pier. In response to Councilman Kennedy's decrying the lack of any kind of business plan, we found out that the subsidy will be "a third to a half" of the current operating subsidy. That puts it at a $500,000 to $750,000 per year net loss to the city to operate the giant toilet bowl of the Lens pier. This would still make the Lens pier the most expensive city subsidy aside from Tropicana Field. So the pier subsidy gets cut in half, and the number of jobs related to the pier will be cut by 80-90%(from 500 to 300 jobs now, to about 50 jobs with the Lens pier). This is a good time to mention one of our favorite Foster quotes: "Jobs is the biggest indicator of economic vitality and growth of a city. If you're not creating jobs, and growing, you're dying".

Another new piece of information was just how much the Lens pier itself has shrunk since its first presentation. The Lens pier plan entered into the design contest was about 1450 feet long. Then, to come in under budget, Maltzan had to shrink the "tiara" portion of the Lens and move the whole structure 100 feet closer to shore. Yesterday we found out that the Lens has shrunk even more. In response to a question about this from Councilman Nurse, Maltzan admitted that the Lens pier was now down to "1100 feet right now". If we keep going at this rate, the pier will be only 200 feet long by the time it is built.

The last new piece of information came from Mayor Bill Foster himself. The Mayor, who was dressed in a fashionable matching legal-pad-yellow shirt and tie, revealed that his parents "hate everything about" the Lens pier, and that the new Lens pier is about the future, not the older generation, saying "my parents will not be excited, I have written them off". Writing off an entire generation of people is pretty harsh Mr. Mayor.

Nothing else new was revealed, another meeting is scheduled "about 60 days from now" that is supposed to have more answers. Speaking of questions and answers, over a month ago, we submitted a list of 15 questions to Councilman Kornell to ask the Maltzan group, he never got back to us, but after this meeting, only 3 of those questions have been answered. We will be posting an updated list of "unanswered questions about the Lens pier" in the next few days.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Did Mayor Foster Laugh At Falling Graduation Rate?

Last week Mayor Bill Foster was the guest contestant on WQYK's radio question and answer contest "Veronica's College of Hollywood Knowledge"(audio link). Mayor Foster lost against Veronica and "flunked out" of her College of Hollywood Knowledge(which is actually a good thing in our opinion), but what really caught our attention was the banter with the Mayor before the questions started. He mentioned that he graduated from Northeast High School in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg, Veronica said she went to Osceola High School, to which the Mayor responded "Oh, I'm sorry", and then one of the hosts said "The Mayor went when there was a 90% graduation rate, it's a little different now" (We checked, and the 2012 graduation rate at Northeast High School was 62.4%). Then you can clearly hear Foster's jovial laughter in the background as he says "Yeah", and no other response is heard from him. Even though it didn't sound like it, we are hoping that was just uncomfortable laughter from the Mayor, but for a Mayor that has been named an "Education Mold Breaker", to make light of a 27% drop in graduation rate, his actions were just plain horrible.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mayor Bill Foster Spent Like A Drunken Sailor On His Party's Party

Last week we covered how Mayor Foster's bet paid off for a piece of Tampa's RNC security federal tax money, but an article in the Tampa Bay Times today exposes how the preparations for that 4-hour private party ended up costing almost $600,000 more than Foster had budgeted, and that cost overrun will most likely have to be paid by the people of St. Petersburg.

Let's add up the costs of Sunday's private party for 8,000 Republican delegates and low-level members of the press. Pinellas county contributed $600,000 from tourist development funds, Hillsborough county contributed $400,000 from their tourist development funds, St. Petersburg received $1 million from the city of Tampa out of their $50 million allotment from federal tax funds, and on top of all of that, the city spent another $600,000 they didn't have on preparations for the pre-conference party. Grand total: $2.6 million dollars.

Breaking that down, we spent $325 on each delegate and member of the press that attended. Or to put it in other terms, that 4-hour private party cost as much as the entire operating subsidies for both Tropicana Field and the Pier, combined, for the whole year of 2012.

Earlier this month, Mayor Foster was quoted as saying, "I will not do anything that causes the city of St. Petersburg taxpayers to bear the costs of a private party." We would like to thank Bill Foster for his generous contribution, you can make your $600,000 personal check out to the City of St. Petersburg Mr. Mayor.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Former Foster Foe Ford Files Suit on Future of the Pier

Mayor Foster will be squaring off in court against his former rival Kathleen Ford. Earlier this week, Ford filed the lawsuit on behalf of herself and the thousands of other St. Petersburg voters that signed petitions to have the question of the future of the municipal Pier put on the ballot. The suit calls the city out on it's refusal to allow the referendum on renovating the Pier, as well as the city's ignoring of the charter requirement to hold a referendum on significantly altering city-owned waterfront property.

This shouldn't be a surprise for Mayor Bill Foster, he and his staff had pushed hard for the demolition of the Pier and they tried to craft legal language to avoid the charter referendum requirements. They also gave city council a slanted view of the Pier's ability to be renovated, resulting in all renovation proposals being excluded from the rushed pier design competition. Now the people of St. Petersburg will have to pay for Foster's actions. Even though the majority of people don't want the new Lens pier, our tax dollars will be used to defend it in court.

Mayor Foster's Ever-Changing Fire Fee

It started as a rather generic concept, charge every property owner in the city a flat fee for "fire readiness" as a way to generate revenue to fill the city's budget gap. Calling it a "fire fee" is about as true as saying lottery money goes to education, its just a way of shifting money around within the budget, there will be no budget increases or added funding stability for the fire department if this fire fee is enacted. Nobody but virtual-co-Mayor Kennedy would admit to understanding it at first, and it has been changed at least a dozen times since it was first proposed.

First it was going to be a flat fee, then Foster talked about making it a graduated fee, bigger for expensive properties than lower appraised ones(although nowhere near as graduated as the general property tax is).

The Mayor started by saying that non-profits would not be exempt, and then he came out this week saying that they would be exempt.

He was against offering exemptions for the poor, then came up with a complex "deferral" idea that would involve putting a lien on the property and charging interest and recording fees on top of it. Maybe the Mayor should get into the car-title-loan business too, it's not much of a leap from there, and we are unsure how deferring a tax payment can help the yearly budget if you don't see the money for years, or even decades.

City Council has gone along for the ride, voting for approval of the fire fee along with the large payments for legal services to try to get approval for it without even knowing the specifics of how the fire fee would be implemented. It's time for them to stop the wobbling fire-fee-train and pin Foster down on the specifics before they allow it to move any further.

Former Foster Target For Closure, Historic Jennie Hall Pool Dedicated Last Weekend

In an update to a subject that we've covered before, the Jennie Hall Pool was dedicated as a historic landmark last weekend. Just last year, the pool was on Mayor Bill Foster's chopping block, then City Council decided to save the historic pool last year, in a rejection of Foster's attempts to delay its historic designation process and close the pool down as a cost saving measure. Thanks again to city council for preserving our city's history.

Update on Foster's Party's Party

Mayor Foster's gamble paid off, but it came down to the wire, last week Tampa's City Council approved the transfer of almost $1 million(out of the $50 million that they received) to St. Petersburg for security-related costs associated with hosting the RNC pre-conference party. So Foster gets a big piece of government cheese(our federal tax dollars) to host a private party for his political buddies. He doesn't even try to hide the fact that this party won't generate immediate benefits to the city the night everyone is in town."Hopefully they will come back to the city of St. Petersburg," Foster said. "The welcome mat is up and we are open for business." Of course if you look at the pictures in that article, all the party-goers will see of St. Petersburg is the highway and a whole lot of barricades around the Trop. Heck, they can't even walk across the street to Ferg's where Ron Paul's after-party there had to be canceled and moved across the bay to Tampa. So the net loss of an entire weekend's worth of business for a good portion of downtown St. Petersburg's businesses, and a whole lot of city employee overtime, is about all we will be getting out of this event.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Who Will Pay For Foster's Party's Party?

There have been several articles over the last few days about Mayor Bill Foster asking Tampa to pay for some of the costs for the Republican party's party at Tropicana field later this month. We've covered it twice before, and Mayor Foster has said a few conflicting things about who is paying for it over the last nine months. Back in January, Foster said the costs could run "well into six-figures". Then in March he said that "he expected that the city would end up covering some of the costs", yet in June he said "There won't be any general-operating funds used for this event." So which is it Mr. Mayor, who is going to pay for your party's party at the Trop?

He sent a letter to Tampa's Mayor Bob Buckhorn earlier last month asking for some money, and has yet to receive any kind of response. Foster's backup plan is to ask the host committee for money, although the Trop party is not actually part of the convention.

Another expense that is overlooked in this is the $270,000 that Foster pushed through City Council for security cameras for the event, again he had no guarantees on outside money to cover those costs either. To get approval for that expense, City Council had also been told that the cameras could be moved after the event, but after the vote Foster then said they couldn't.

Why is the Mayor gambling with our money? He has bet that he can get someone else to pay for these expenses, without any kind of contract or assurance from these outside organizations that they will pay, and in the process he has played fast-and-loose with the facts to the city council and people of St. Petersburg.

The worst-case scenario is that the people of St. Petersburg will spend a half-million dollars on this one-day closed party for Republican delegates and the press. And Mayor Foster will have lied to the people once again, to get what he wants.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mayor Foster And Police Chases

We were going to post a story last week about the Gulfport police chase, the resulting crash with a bus and a building, and Mayor Foster's criticism of it. But right before we did, there was a similar crash after a police chase, which was started right here in St. Petersburg. Both police chases were of stolen vehicles, the St. Petersburg initiated crash was related to string of burglaries in an upper-class area of the city, but the results were the same, a lot of twisted metal, and several people going to the hospital.

We are conflicted with the debate about police chases, offenders need to be caught, but is the collateral damage too high a price to pay when the suspects are almost always repeat offenders that we would have caught soon anyway? Is it worth sending innocent people to the hospital when the police or a criminal crashes into them because of the chase?

We went back to the horrific case of innocent driver Thomas Atherton, who was killed during a high speed police chase, his car was cut in two by a police cruiser chasing a man fleeing north in the southbound lanes of I-275. This is one of the cases that helped to change the police chase policy in the first place, the thinking was that the collateral damage is not worth chasing a non-violent offender. So the policy was changed to only allow chases when the offender was involved in a violent felony. That policy was then changed when Bill Foster became Mayor in 2009, allowing police chases in more cases.

Earlier this year there was the case of purse-snatcher Kenneth Gordon Davis Jr. who died after he crashed while being chased by police. The crash also sent six other people to the hospital. Davis was known to police, and he was unarmed, but because purse snatching is classified as a violent felony they decided to chase him, and a half-dozen people ended up paying the price for that decision.

As for last week's police chase crash, it came out that the suspects in the fleeing vehicle were all wanted for questioning in several burglaries, and one had already been positively identified by fingerprints, they were also not armed. This crash sent four other people to the hospital.

So we have 10 innocent people hospitalized(with several critically injured) in just these two St. Petersburg initiated crashes, to catch known suspects that were unarmed. In these cases, the human cost was too high, the suspects should not have been chased.

Back to the recent Gulfport-initiated crash, Mayor Foster immediately had some harsh words for the Gulfport police saying "They got to own this one... That pursuit wouldn't have been authorized by the St. Petersburg Police Department.". Yet when asked about the Davis police chase a few months ago he was much more reserved, "I'm waiting for the facts and the investigation to be concluded before I can comment... With any authorized pursuit there are a number of conditions that must be weighed." He is reserved when it could be his fault, but quick to place blame when he's in the clear.

The Gulfport Gabber had some criticism of it's own for Foster, saying "Mr. Foster, an attorney specializing in real estate, probate and corporate law, lists no law enforcement experience on his resume." Suggesting that Mayor Foster should stop arm-chair quarterbacking, and stick to things that he knows about.

Earlier this year, a Tampa Bay Times editorial called for a review of police chase policy in St. Petersburg. We agree with the Times, we think that in cases where the suspect is unarmed, and known to police, that the chase should be called off immediately, the human cost has proven to be too high.