At last Thursday's City Council meeting it was apparent that, "What we've got here is... failure to communicate." between City Council and Mayor Bill Foster. The issue is whether it is intentional or just an information exchange failure.
A new business item was added last-minute to the agenda Thursday for a "discussion regarding City Council information requests."
For council chair Leslie Curran, and other council members, they said they have had trouble getting various budget, policy, and project information before the public from the Mayor and city administration.
Curran said she has asked repeatedly about unknown RNC costs but was told that information would be provided only when ready. However, Tampa provided that information to the Tampa Bay Times regarding costs associated with St. Pete hosting the official RNC kick-off party.
"We are standing in line with the press," Curran said with getting information from city officials. "I just think, no offense to the press, your job is to present the news, our job is to govern. It's difficult to do that if you don’t have the information."
Thursday's unexpected discussion about _adding nine new red light cameras in St. Petersburg_, Curran said, was a microcosm of the communication failures between council and Foster.
St. Peter resident Matt Florell was speaking during open forum regarding yellow light times at intersections with red light cameras when he mentioned the city was adding more red light cameras. This was news to city council.
Council member Jeff Danner said he knows adding additional cameras was part of the original red light camera agreement, but only after council received a safety report of the effectiveness of the first cameras placed around St. Petersburg.
"We’ve learned form the pubic that more cameras are going up," Danner said at Thursday's council meeting. "That’s the issue, learning this on the fly. We get the heat for putting the cameras up. We (did) it because it was a safety issue. Now we are doing more without the safety data."
"I think any time we are told we can’t have information, it should have few and far between," said council member Steve Kornell. "Lately, it’s happened a little more than I would like."
For council member Karl Nurse, some council members might need to look in the mirror as to why there is a communication gap between council and the Mayor.
Nurse said it has become routine for some council member to attack Foster and city officials each week during council meetings.
"I think that we have sort of wandered off into a style where the personal attacks are just every week," he said.
He said if you treat someone poorly you cannot reasonably expect that to be a good relationship.
"It’s human nature that when you abuse people on television that people are going to be much more cautious sharing information and you’ll get it slower," Nurse said.
Council member Bill Dudley said grilling each city staffer like they are the enemy, "just gets him the wrong way."
Foster waited until the end of the discussion to respond last Thursday.
"I deeply respect you all and spent 10 years on that side of the hall. I knew what it was like to be a part of the team," Foster said. "I’ve tried for some of you, tried to be on your team since I got elected and have not been invited to your team.
"Respect and trust are earned and they are mutual," Foster added. "I‘m happy to release any and all information to you about things that are public, pertinent to your district."
City Attorney John Wolfe said anything that is public record should be shared with council but the way it's shared is between the Mayor and council.
Foster said he would continue to provide information when it is available and build better relationships with council.
"We will continue to work together and try to do what’s best for this city, the people that hired all of us," Foster said.