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Suncoast Tiger Bay: Righting wrongs means shining a light [Video] [St. Pete Catalyst]

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Welcome Catalyst’s Community Voices. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details. Click play on the video below to see the full conversation at the June 27th Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon featuring Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, Gwendolyn Reese, Tim Dutton and Winnie Foster.

The late 19th and early 20th Century African-American investigative journalist Ida B. Wells, an early leader in the civil rights movement once said, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Over Tiger Bay’s 40 years of existence, our organization has attempted to host open-tent civic and political conversations of every stripe. We have done this with success at times, and at others, not so successfully. But Tiger Bay has never done a good job of critically analyzing our own community’s history – particularly when it comes to race.

A few months ago during a Tiger Bay luncheon, a question was asked about Green Benches that used to line Central Avenue. To a significant segment of our community’s population, those benches are at best benign artifacts of the past, and at worst, a symbol of an ugly segregationist era in our history and in our city.

The question triggered a conversation among Tiger Bay’s board that identified a larger, long-overdue conversation, that needed to happen at Tiger Bay. We scheduled this conversation to begin shining a light.

Our invitation to our June 27 event advertised a “bold” conversation on race and the legacy of racism in the ‘Burg. That is what we set out to do.

We made a commitment that this will not be a single conversation, but rather that we model what we hope will take
place throughout the rest of our city, state, and country – that courageous conversations can happen and will happen with frequency, reflecting the voices and experiences of all members of our community.

It was inspiring then that this luncheon was our largest luncheon crowd in 2019. It was clear that our community is hungry for conversation, for understanding. This serves to reaffirm the importance of this conversation and ensures it will not be the last.

On June 27 we welcomed a carefully selected panel of community members and experts. The panel included Gwendolyn
Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association; Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, community activist and faith leader; Winnie Foster, grassroots activist; and Tim Dutton, executive director of UNITE Pinellas. It was moderated by Pinellas County Commissioner and Tiger Bay member Ken Welch. If you missed the conversation, please enjoy the recap below. If you’d like to become a member of Tiger Bay, please visit our website here.

Tiger Bay talks race, green benches, gentrification in ‘long overdue’ conversation [St. Pete Catalyst]

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A simple question about the legacy of St. Petersburg’s infamous green benches triggered a conversation that brought more than 160 people together Thursday at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club’s discussion on Race and the Legacy of Racism in the ‘Burg.

Those green benches, which once lined Central Avenue, were depicted on postcards and tourism brochures. It is estimated that at one time, nearly 7,000 benches lined the streets of St. Petersburg. For some, they represent a romanticized image of St. Petersburg’s history.

For many, the green bench’s legacy means something altogether different. As a practice, black residents were not allowed on St. Petersburg’s green benches. They were, by all practical measures, white-only, throughout the 1950s, though the practice was never enshrined in ordinance.

“A few months ago during a Tiger Bay luncheon, a question was asked during our panel discussion on historic preservation about the green benches that used to line Central Avenue,” explained Suncoast Tiger Bay Club President Elise Minkoff.

“To a significant segment of our community’s population, those benches are at best an artifact of the past and at their worst, a symbol – an ugly symbol – of a segregationist era in our history and in our city.

“The question triggered a discussion among Tiger Bay’s board where we identified that a larger, long overdue conversation needs to happen here at Tiger Bay,” Minkoff continued.

Ironically, the conversation came together Thursday at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, which for much of its history did not allow black members. According to its Centennial Book, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club did not admit its first black member until 1985.

In a sort of public reckoning, Minkoff acknowledged that in Tiger Bay’s more than 40 year history of community conversations and dialogue, Thursday’s meeting was the first to be entirely dedicated to a conversation on race.

“We want to make a commitment that this will not be a single conversation,” she said, to audience applause, “but rather that we model what we hope will take place throughout the rest of our city, our state, and our country. That courageous conversations can happen and will happen.”

The event’s panel was moderated by Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, and featured Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, longtime community activist Winnie Foster, and Tim Dutton, executive director of Unite Pinellas.

Welch framed the conversation in the context of St. Petersburg’s checkered racial history, recalling heated issues like gentrification, specifically related to certain areas of South St. Petersburg, like the Gas Plant District, which was razed to build what is now Tropicana Field and its many parking lots; as well as the Deuces Live, the historic black business district, bifurcated by I-275, and now segmented by the Warehouse Arts District.

Welch recalled the “Courageous 12,” a group of black police officers who successfully sued the city for the right to patrol white neighborhoods and use the same locker rooms, water fountains and cars as white officers. He also mentioned the 1996 killing of Tyron Lewis, an unarmed black teenager shot by a white St. Petersburg police officer, and the riots that ensued.

“Even here in beautiful and progressive Pinellas, like most communities in our nation and particularly in the South, we are not immune from the legacy and enduring impacts of discrimination and racism,” said Welch.

“And so an honest discussion on race is really the only path to a mutual understanding of our past and that in turn will empower us to successfully lay the foundation for equity, shared progress and prosperity for our future.”

The panel tackled issues from gentrification, to deep-seated structural inequality, to the need for historical awareness and education.

One theme that continued to resonate? Green benches.

“Ollie’s Outlet on 9th Avenue North, Chik-Fil-A on 4th Street, Green Bench Magazine and the ever-expanding Green Bench Brewery are a few of the businesses in this community that continue to use the green bench symbol,” said Reverend JC Pritchett.

“My question to you is, is this a dog-whistle in your opinion? Is this subtle? Is this a misunderstanding? Should we be sympathetic to people who continue to use this symbol that has been hurtful to many in our family?” Pritchett asked.

“Sympathetic, no. Understanding, no. Accepting, no,” said Reese.

“Many efforts are being made to romanticize the green benches, and it’s very romantic for some people. But I was born and raised here. I walked down Central Avenue and could not sit on those green benches,” she explained.

“To romanticize it and lift it up in one way without understanding or even voicing the history and the perspective of other people who were adversely affected, it’s not romantic to us, it’s humiliating to us. It reminds us of a period, an era, Jim Crow and segregation, that is a part of our history. But why do you lift it up and romanticize it?

“I think the green benches are very much like – you may not like this – but they’re like the Confederate statues that are all across this country, romanticizing a period in our history that was not romantic for many Americans.”

Dutton encouraged audience members to engage in economic activism. “I do think this is an opportunity – an economic opportunity – for us to use our wallets to influence change,” he explained. “And do it vocally, do it with a noisy approach. Don’t buy those products and tell people about it. Don’t buy those products and make sure everybody knows why.”

“Race and the legacy of racism” in St. Petersburg [WMNF]

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On Thursday afternoon in St. Petersburg the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club hosted a discussion about race and the legacy of racism in the city. Topics like reparations, gentrification and the racist symbolism of St. Petersburg’s segregated green benches came up. It was held at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, which used to exclude African-Americans.

WMNF News interviewed Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch about race in the history of St. Pete.

“It’s complex. And we’re not immune from the legacy of racism and discrimination. Just like every other city in the country, and especially cities in the south.  So this conversation today is vitally important. You can see it’s a sold out room. That’s encouraging to see. But I think in this community we are ready to embrace that discussion more fully.

“Especially as we move into redevelopment of historically African-American areas, as we talk about making sure we’re a prosperous county. An understanding of where we come from and having that racial awareness across the board is going to be vital to that.”

SK: Do students of color get the same education in Pinellas County as white students?

“How much time do you have? Because in my first year I was at all-black Melrose in 1970-1971. The next year we became integrated so I was bused to Bay Point. The quality of education at Melrose was great. It was a small classroom environment. It was also great at Bay Point. So I think there are a lot of factors. But the issue of poverty I think really impacts our schools.”

Welch moderated the discussion on race with panelists Gwen Reese, Imam Askia Muhammed Aquil, Winnie Foster and Tim Dutton.

WMNF also spoke with Pinellas County School Board member Joanne Lentino about race and public education.

Art O’Hara is remembered for his dedication, determination [St. Pete Catalyst]

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The education and welfare of Pinellas County children was paramount to Art O’Hara, whose vision – and tenacity – helped develop R’Club, Inc. into the largest and most successful education-based childcare program in the area.

O’Hara, 68, died Sunday at St. Anthony’s Hospital, from an apparent heart attack.

The St. Pete native had been executive director of R’Club since 2000, after seven years in a similar position at the Children’s Home Society’s Gulf Coast Division.

Founded in 1967 as Latchkey Services, R’Club is a nonprofit that provides before- and after-school services for children of working families. Approximately 4,500 young people are served per day; the organization’s mission is getting kids ready for school, and helping them be successful in school, through curriculum-based programs, including STEM-related subjects.

Board president Dennis Ruppel said that O’Hara, behind his engaging smile and self-deprecating humor, was laser-focused on the organization’s mission. “He didn’t just go through the motions,” Ruppel explained. “He took on the big challenges.

“The most recent one was his advocating to our board that we agree to take over the operations of Happy Workers Daycare Center, which was a St. Pete institution going back to the 1920s. It had fallen on hard times in recent years and was at risk of losing its license. Art inspired us all to take on that challenge, to raise funds so that it can become a first-class facility. We’re far along, and I know we’ll finish it as part of his legacy.”

O’Hara was instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the Louise Graham Regeneration Center, which provides employment for developmentally disabled adults through the recycling and sale of paper products, in order to maximize their independence. He had been the center’s executive director since 2006.

“Art was very straightforward and very clear about his priorities,” said Ruppel, who joined the R’Club board in 1989. “The things he felt were important. And he had a very persuasive rationale about why his priorities should be adopted by the community.

“And because he did the things he said he would do, he garnered great respect from both city government and county government, the Juvenile Welfare Board and the state legislative delegation. People who got to know him understood that he spoke from depth; he really understood what he was doing, what he was espousing, and that he had a mastery of the complete picture. And that when he said he could get something accomplished, you knew he could get it accomplished.”

Tweeted Mayor Rick Kriseman: “Art O’Hara used his time on Earth wisely. He made a difference, made our community better. The future of St. Pete is brighter because of Art and his focus on our children.”

Mike Sutton, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County, wrote on Facebook: “The Habitat family is saddened to hear of the passing of Art O’Hara, and our prayers go out to his loved ones and the R’Club family. Many of our Habitat partner families have benefited from R’Club Child Care, Inc. programs over the years, and we are grateful for his leadership, legacy and the tremendous impact he made in our community, especially for local children.”

O’Hara, the divorced father of two adult sons, held a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from the University of South Florida, and a master’s in social work from Florida State University. He began his career in social work as director of the San Antonio Boys Village in Pasco County.

He was also a past president of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

“Art had a captivating smile and a shine to his eyes, which really was the emanation of how deep and rich his heart was,” said Ruppel. “He was a very, very caring person; it just radiated from him. And I think that’s why he garnered such respect and trust.”

O’Hara’s talent, he said, extended to building a solid, dependable team around himself.

“I know we’ll continue to operate well,” Ruppel explained. “We won’t miss a beat. But there’s just no replacing somebody like Art. He was very special.

“The board is highly engaged and will take all the right initiatives to find the best possible replacement. But there’s only one Art O’Hara.”

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.





Legislators talk 2019 session at Suncoast Tiger Bay Club [St. Pete Catalyst]

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The media has been inundated with coverage of the explosive issues of the 2019 Legislative Session. From arming teachers to the implementation of Amendment 4, to a ban on so-called Sanctuary Cities. But it is in the weeks following the close of session that the stories behind the scenes arise.

The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club held the first of what will be many Legislative Wrap-up panels with the Pinellas Legislative Delegation Thursday at the Feather Sound Country Club.

A contingent of Pinellas Democratic legislators, including Sen. Darryl Rouson, Rep. Ben Diamond, Rep. Jennifer Webb, and Rep. Wengay Newton spoke at length about the challenges, accomplishments, and lessons of the 2019 Legislative Session.

The delegation’s Republican colleagues were also invited, but spent the afternoon with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made a surprise visit to South St. Petersburg’s Mount Moriah Fundamental Christian School to tout the signing of an education bill that will create a new school voucher program, setting aside $130 million in tuition dollars for up to 18,000 low-income students.

The Democratic lawmakers shared their feelings on the progress of the legislative session, and how they made their voices heard as members of the minority party.

Rouson called the 2019 session significant. “I significantly defended against the evisceration of Amendment 4,” Rouson explained. “We defended against Sanctuary Cities [ban]. We defended against arming teachers. We defended against private school vouchers and we had to play a lot of defense this particular session.”

As for policy-making in the minority, “I learned a newfound respect for the amendatory process,” said Rouson. “Many times that’s the only way we could be heard, was by filing amendments on bad bills to try to make them better.”

Diamond, in line to lead the House’s Democratic caucus in 2022, characterized the session as filled with missed opportunities, despite passing what he called a very good state budget. “By the end of the budget conference, we reached a point, a really special point where pretty much the entire legislature was in agreement that the budget that we crafted was a good budget and correctly funded the priorities for Floridians,” said Diamond.

“But overall, the session from my perspective was very distressing because we had a number of policy bills jam through in the last week of session that I strongly disagreed with, and I know my colleagues here disagreed with.”

Webb, a first-year lawmaker representing district 69 called the session instructive. “There were bad bills that we were able to stop in committee, that we pulled together bipartisan support to stop on the floor, that we amended to the point where it was good policy instead of giving into the excesses of my colleagues from the other party.”

Artists, art leaders talk shop at Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting [St. Pete Catalyst]

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The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club welcomed a quartet of movers and shakers from St. Pete’s cultural community to its Thursday luncheon at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Participating in a panel discussion on “Arts and Economic Development’ were glass artist Duncan McClellan, St. Petersburg Arts Alliance executive director John Collins, painter Carrie Jadus and Hank Hine, director of the Salvador Dali Museum.

It was Tiger Bay’s first discussion dedicated to the arts since 2010. In that time, arts and culture in the city have emerged as major economic drivers, at the same time the state legislature has eviscerated funding for the arts on an annual basis.

“We would love to see our leaders come up with funding streams,” Collins said, “so that every morning I don’t have to wake up and say ‘Who am I going to ask for money today?’ Because that’s how we’re funded to do these programs.”

A question was asked about the balance between art and new business in any community – can they exist together, and work together as economic springboards?

Of course, volunteered Hine.

“There’s no difference between the impulse to make something new in glass, metal or canvas and to create a new business,” Hine said. “The lessons of elasticity, and going beyond the bounds of normal assumptions that an artist has to take, those lessons could be learned by business.”

Said Collins: “If you’re a company thinking about moving here, what is going to tip the scales in our favor? I would say it’s our City of the Arts. Nor that we don’t have to build a lot to support that moniker  that we’ve called ourselves, we’ve built it. But now we need to support it.”

The Arts Alliance director explained that he is frequently sought out by such companies, inquiring about everything from artists, studios and museums to performing arts venues and even art supply stores.

McClellan, Jadus and Collins agreed that while the Dali is rightfully advertised as a major cultural draw, the thriving arts scene here could use a bit more attention from local and statewide tourism bureaus.

“We’ve got a great infrastructure of the arts here,” McClellan said. “We’ve got something to advertise. That would be one of things I’d love to see implemented.”

Added Jadus: “The city provides a great art experience. I give them kudos for that. I feel that in some ways the artists, and the arts community, are the main drivers in pushing this forward, towards this being a city for the arts.”

What she wishes for, she said, is “a little more support at the government level, where we’re receiving the money we need to maintain ourselves as an arts city.”

Debate Over Preservation, Growth Heats Up In St. Petersburg [WUSF]

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  MAR 21, 2019

St. Petersburg developers and preservationists on Thursday debated how the city might balance its rapid development with the preservation of its charm and history.

Last year, the City of St. Petersburg reported 27 new developments were either underway or recently completed. Peter Belmont of Preserve the Burg, a historic preservation group, told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club gathering that preserving existing buildings is better for growth than the high rises popping up in downtown.

“Preservation is important for the ongoing success of St. Pete,” he said. “Preservation in terms of recognizing the history of properties has shown to be good for property value. It’s been shown to be good for neighborhoods. So there are many reasons why there are positive attributes to recognizing our history and promoting what keeps our city special.”

Belmont was joined on the panel by Alan DeLisle, the City of St. Petersburg City Development Administrator, Elihu Brayboy, owner of Chief’s Creole Café, and developer Mack Feldman of Feldman Equities.

They discussed controversial projects such as ONE St. Petersburg – currently the tallest building in downtown. Preservationists challenged the city about the height of the building owned by the Kolter Co., and others worried the condominium would drive up rental prices. The city eventually allowed for the project to be at its planned height, but under conditions that promoted preservation, said Feldman.

“One of the things that made that building as tall as it was, was a special bonus that the city of St. Pete has wherein the developer agrees to pay money toward preservation – in this case it was the Snell Arcade,” said Feldman. “The Snell Arcade was completely renovated in part from money from the Kolter project.”

Feldman believes that there is a place for both preservation and development in the city. He also said that with the amount of people moving to the area, development is necessary to accommodate everyone.

“We have to allow supply to keep up with demand,” he said.

From left to right: Peter Belmont, Mack Feldman, Elihu Brayboy, and Alan DeLisle

For Brayboy, a business owner in St. Petersburg’s historic Midtown neighborhood, development looks a lot like pushing low- and median-income residents out in the name of growth.

“It’s going to bring in some new things, but (development is) not necessarily inclusive,” he said. “I’m not saying its gentrification, but it looks like it, smells like it, feels like it. It may very well be a gentrification concept unintentionally.”

Brayboy pointed to the demolishing of the primarily black neighborhood in the city’s Gaslight district in the 1980s to build Tropicana Field and to the the removal of residential homes on 22nd Street South to build the Job Corps facility. Expansion of city development, Brayboy said, doesn’t sound like it will be good for the community in which he lives and works.

“You cannot convince me that you’re going to mix a million-dollar condo with (federal-government supported) Section-8 housing,” he said. “I don’t think any developer is going to do that. St. Petersburg is not making room for the working class people that are here.”

City Development Administrator DeLisle said that the city is working hard to make sure St. Petersburg works well for all of its residents, current and future.

“I think—and I know that the Mayor (Rick Kriseman) has worked very hard at this—that St. Petersburg is about all people feeling comfortable,” he said. “All people being part of the economy.”

Community members also weighed in on the debate. Matt Weidner is an attorney who represents a resident trying to demolish and rebuild his home in the historic Driftwood neighborhood. He said preservationists don’t take individual rights into consideration.

“One of the most frustrating things about the preservation argument and debate is that the proponents of preservation have no concern whatsoever for the financial consequences of individuals,” he said.

Beth Connor, a candidate running for St. Petersburg City Council, said she wished developers and preservationists would focus more on areas on the city’s southernmost side – the Skyway Marina District and the Pink Street neighborhood.

“There’s adaptive reuse of buildings in my district. There are lots that can be repurposed for things. There’s housing stock that can be renovated and reused,” she said.

No two opinions seemed to agree completely, but community members who attended the event did feel like they had more insight into the city’s future. Monica Kile, a member of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club was happy with the conversation.

“It was better than I thought it would be,” she said. “I learned a lot and I felt like the panel presented a nice mix of opinions.”

Sheriff Gualtieri: Mitigate school safety threat now, navigate prevention bureaucracy later [St. Pete Catalyst]

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By Megan Holmes

If there is one thing that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has been unequivocal about, it’s that something needs to change in Florida schools. Gualtieri, who serves as the Chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Commission, was tasked with analyzing and creating a law enforcement response to the Feb. 14, 2018 mass shooting in Parkland that left 17 people dead and 17 more wounded in just three minutes and 51 seconds.

“Think about that, look at your watches,” Gualtieri asked of his audience at a luncheon hosted by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club last Thursday. “That isn’t even four times around by the second hand on your watches. In three minutes and 51 seconds he shot or killed 34 people.”

“We need to do something differently than what we’re doing today,” Gualtieri explained. “And we need to do something differently than what we were doing on February 14 of last year if we expect a different outcome then what happened at Stoneman Douglas.”

Gualtieri has come under fire since the conclusions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas investigation became public, for his advocacy of the controversial practice of arming school personnel under the state’s Guardian program, created by state legislation passed in response to the massacre. The program allows school personnel trained to stop active assailants on school premises to carry a concealed firearm. To date, only two school districts in the state have allowed the program. Currently, classroom teachers are ineligible for the program.

During Thursday’s luncheon held at St. Petersburg Yacht Club, Gualtieri defended his position, fielding questions from the public on arming teachers, mental health policy solutions, and the logistics of implementing Guardians into schools.

One common theme emerged: action on harm mitigation needs to happen now. That mean taking action so that when bad things do happen, the results are less catastrophic. Because, according to Gualtieri, it’s going to happen again. “As sure as I’m standing here today, and it’s a hard thing to say, and it’s not what you want to hear, it’s going to happen again,” he said, solemnly.

“The biggest question for all of us is, ‘What have we done differently to drive a different outcome,’ if you always do what you’ve always done, you’re always going to get what you always got.”

The harm prevention vs. harm mitigation issue continuously arises not just in community conversations about these issues, but the national debate on school safety and gun violence.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long addressed Gualtieri Thursday.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long asked Gualtieri why, if America is the only country in the world with this problem, we can’t study other countries who don’t have this violence. “What do you identify that maybe I’m not that makes us so special that we have this problem here?”

“How long have we been talking about gun issues and had the gun debate? Like forever,” responded Gualtieri, pointing to the paralysis of national gun debate. “How long are we going to be talking about gun issues and have the gun debate? Forever. And in the meantime, we need to do something differently.”

“This is not about the gun debate in people who want to make it about the gun debate are missing the mark,” he added. “This is about closing a gaping hole in a huge vulnerability and being able to mitigate harm.”

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, Florida state legislation passed in 2018 after the Parkland shooting, mandates at least one armed “safe-school officer” in every school, whether that be a school resource officer, school safety officer, or a guardian.

According to Gualtieri, one is not enough. “What I am saying is, is that two is better than one, three is better that two, and four is better than three,” he said.

“And if you have people out there that want to do it, who are qualified or willing to go through a rigorous background process – a background check, a polygraph, a drug screen, psychological screening, etc. And they’re willing to go through rigorous training, weapon retention drills, site acquisition drills, shoot don’t shoot scenarios and all of what cops go through then we can have that two is better than one, three is better than two, etc.”

Tiger Bay member Susan Taylor stood to ask a question Thursday.

Harm mitigation isn’t the only focus, according to Gualtieri. But it is the most pressing. He outlined numerous prevention issues that could make these mitigation efforts less necessary in the future, including school-based behavioral threat assessments using multi-disciplinary teams to refer kids to proper services before they become a threat and master case management between the criminal justice system and the mental health system.

“Last year in the state of Florida, we had 102,000 Baker Acts. That’s not 102,000 different people … a whole bunch of them are bouncing back and forth between the criminal justice system and the mental health system,” Gualtieri explained.

“If I was going to suggest to the state legislature or to Congress, what could you do that in the long term would make the greatest difference and have the greatest effect would be establishing dedicated case management entities that are going to guide these people into the right resources, because they’re all co-occurring disorders between mental health, behavioral health and substance abuse.”

Editorial: Three mayors united for Tampa Bay [Tampa Bay Times]

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The mayors of Tampa Bay’s three largest cities held their final public chat this week, underscoring again how far the region has come in appreciating its shared future. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos are different political animals dealing with distinct constituencies. Their cities have their own charms and challenges. But they have created the best relationships ever among the region’s big-city mayors, and they have built a strong foundation for their successors to work collaboratively to address transportation, water resources, the Tampa Bay Rays and other regional priorities.

Thursday’s lunch before a friendly crowd of civic activists in Clearwater was a final joint appearance before Buckhorn leaves office in May. With Kriseman serving his final term and Cretekos departing next year, it was a chance for the trio to trade gentle pokes and reinforce the strength of their relationships. While the cities have their own agendas, the mayors can come together on issues of regional concern. And where they disagree, these mayors have forged an easy and effective channel of communication, building a rapport that promotes understanding if not always unanimous agreement on regional issues.

Transportation. Hillsborough County’s approval of a 30-year transportation tax in November will focus attention there to improvements in local service. But Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties have worked for years on improving regional transportation. Hillsborough must continue to support connecting the region’s major cities with modern mass transit options, including express bus or train service over the area bridges. While the citizen-led transportation referendum in Hillsborough may offer some lessons, that momentum — and a major private effort to promote it — has yet to surface in Pinellas and Pasco. Hillsborough should operate its transportation fund so that it becomes a model for other areas and be willing to take the lead on regional connectivity.

Water. Buckhorn will ask the regional utility Tampa Bay Water again in February to approve Tampa’s plan to send highly treated wastewater into the regional water supply. The move could guarantee Tampa’s water needs for the immediate term, provide the region with the water it needs to grow and save area governments millions of dollars in avoided water projects costs. St. Petersburg has raised some environmental concerns and fears the move could pave the way for Tampa to leave the cooperative. Unless the impasse is broken next month, the standoff will fall to Buckhorn’s successor to convince the region the plan is a win-win. The future of Tampa Bay Water should not be compromised.

Rays. While St. Petersburg’s agreement allowing the Rays to explore a new stadium site in Hillsborough has expired, but the team and Hillsborough’s business and political leadership made significant progress before the Rays decided not to seek an extension of the pact to keep negotiating directly. The clock is ticking on the lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, which expires in 2027. Hillsborough should independently keep improving its pitch, St. Petersburg should decide how it wants to proceed — and the community deserves a clearer answer from the Rays. Cooperation, not competition, among the cities will be the key to keeping Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.

It would be unrealistic to expect the mayors to always see eye-to-eye, and these three exercise power differently and have their own agendas. But they have advanced the cause of regional unity by talking openly, developing relationships and sending a positive common message. That commitment is an example their successors should follow.

3 Mayors Play Up Cooperation Between St. Petersburg, Tampa And Clearwater [WUSF]

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The tensions that have been seen in the past between Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater seem to have largely dissipated.

The bad old days of fighting about water and public institutions are gone. That was the theme as St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn spoke Thursday at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

“The days of us fighting about bridges and institutions. Buried. Dead,” Buckhorn said. “Do not let anybody run for office in Pinellas County that would advocate anything other than a stronger relationship with our partners in the Bay area is a good thing for all of us.”

Buckhorn told the crowd the relationships between the cities has never been stronger.

“I think the tone and tenor of this relationship and this discussion that we have on a regular basis is that we are better together, that we are stronger together, that we are more competitive together,” he said, “and that we will continue to grow together, maximizing the advantage of each of our communities.”

Even the tug-of-war over where the Tampa Bay Rays will play has simmered down

Kriseman told the crowd that he’s waiting to hear from the Rays on what their next move will be. With the proposal for a new stadium in Ybor City dead, Kriseman says he’s willing to partner with the team to build a new stadium. But if they’re not?

“The city of St. Petersburg will be just fine,” he said. “We have 86 acres that we will be redeveloping. And it gives us a huge opportunity. An opportunity that not a lot of cities around the country don’t have as far as the impact that site could have, and the jobs it could create and the housing it could address.”

The Tropicana Field site is being eyed for everything from commercial and research park to hotels, office space and new homes.