The city will get a chance to present its argument for delaying a court-ordered mediation over the future of the St. Petersburg Pier.
The city requested and was granted the last-minute hearing over attorney Kathleen Ford's VoteOnThePier.com lawsuit to force a citywide vote on the future of the St. Petersburg Pier.
According to the hearing notice, Assistant City Attorney Joe Patner and the city are requesting a delay of the scheduled Jan. 18 mediation.
The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m., Monday, Jan. 14, at the county courthouse in downtown St. Petersburg.
Circuit Court Judge Amy Williams, who ordered the city and Ford on Dec. 5 to go into mediation, is no longer the judge in this case. The new judge is Circuit Court Judge Jack Day.
According to Tom Lambdon, chairman of VoteOnThePier, the city is just trying to delay the mediation until it is too late to save the St. Petersburg Pier, which is scheduled to be demolished this summer.
Ford declined to speak to Patch regarding Monday's hearing or the pending lawsuit.
"It’s clear that the city is trying to delay it and burn the clock so they can tear the building down," Lambdon said. "Our petition is the only one that can stop the demolition of the building. That’s why the city is trying to delay it. They just want to burn the clock between now and Memorial Day."
The pier is scheduled to close to the public on May 31 with demolition slated for August.
Lambdon said there is a sense of urgency to make sure this gets to a public vote. Ford filed the suit against the city in August 2012 after city council voted not to hold a public referendum on the future of the St. Petersburg Pier.
"For the city at the very last minute to ask to postpone the mediation, it speaks to them further trying to ignore the voters," Lambdon added. "By doing so, it basically reeks of them trying to silence the voters."
At the Dec. 5 hearing, beside mediation being ordered, Judge Williams also ordered Ford to name all of the individual petition signers included in the lawsuit.
Lambdon said it cost more than $4,500 for postcards to be sent to the more than 15,000 petitioners whom the court ordered to be named in the suit.
The postcard sent to petitioners, which was originally posted on Patch, read:
"Although the city received the required number of validated petitions, city council failed to propose a referendum regarding the pier. Several petitioners approached me to file a lawsuit against the city to require such a vote. Such a law lawsuit was filed in August 2012 and the court now requires each of the 15,652 signers of the petition to be named individually as part of the lawsuit. As a petition signer, you are a necessary party in this lawsuit (either as a plaintiff or as a defendant). I have named you as a plaintiff seeking the right to vote on the pier. If you have changed your mind since you signed the petition, and no longer wish to vote on the pier, please let me know by January 17, 2013, and I will then change you from being named as a plaintiff, to being named as a defendant."
On Jan. 7, council member Wengay Newton accused city administration of illegally forcing him to leave a closed attorney-client session regarding the pier.
"My attorney told me I had signed the petition and was part of the lawsuit. This was far from the truth," Newton said at the Monday afternoon at a press conference on the steps of City Hall. "I should not have been put out of the meeting. I thought it was deliberate and blatant."
Newton also suggested that some city employees who signed the VoteOnthePier petition and were included in Ford's lawsuit were pressured into signing an affidavit
Mayor Bill Foster told the Tampa Bay Times that Newton's allegations are a "lie."
"That assertion is simply not true. It's a lie," he said.
On Jan. 17, another closed attorney-client session regarding the pending pier lawsuit is scheduled for city council.