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After extension, city council vacancy deadlines approach

Mark Parker



St. Petersburg City Attorneys Brett Pettigrew (left) and Jackie Kovilaritch discuss appointment guidelines after Hurricane Ian complicated the process. Screengrab.

St. Petersburg City Councilmembers hoped to appoint a new District 7 representative today; then came Hurricane Ian.

Despite their intention to expedite the process, Vice Chair Brandi Gabbard told the Catalyst in a previous interview that the council did have “some leeway” at its disposal. Per the City Charter, the appointment deadline to fill Lisa Wheeler-Bowman’s vacated seat – which encompasses much of South St. Petersburg – is Oct. 30.

While city officials extended the deadline for application and question submittals following the storm, time is running out, and they lamented a lack of public input during Thursday morning’s council meeting. The cutoff date for both is 5 p.m. Friday, and applicants will take questions from residents and council members at a Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday, Oct. 13.

The council now plans to select a new District 7 representative at that meeting’s conclusion.

“So, when I said it couldn’t be more complicated with a vacancy occurring in the midst of redistricting and two election-related charter amendments,” began Brett Pettigrew, assistant city attorney. “I neglected to take into account that we could have a hurricane that could change the entire schedule that we had laid out.”

The open seat resulted from Wheeler-Bowman’s abrupt resignation Sept. 14. The decennial redistricting process presented a challenge, as the redrawn map shifts the boundaries of District 7 further east to include the entirety of the historic 22nd Street South corridor.

Pettigrew said during the Sept. 22 meeting that residents likely to enter or exit the newly redrawn district would be unable to apply.

Further complicating matters is a November ballot referendum that, if approved, would delay 2023 races until 2024 and provide elected officials with an extra year in office. Theoretically, the appointee could serve on the dais until January 2025 and remain eligible for two subsequent four-year terms.

Following the previous meeting, Gabbard noted that “they could be there for over a decade.”

Despite the importance of the appointment, Pettigrew explained that as of Wednesday, only two residents submitted questions for candidates through the city’s website.

“One was a question about a criminal record,” he relayed. “Another submission demanded some form of preemptive resignations from each applicant.”

Gabbard expressed her concern over the lack of participation in the process among District 7 residents. She hopes that a significant portion of the Committee of the Whole meeting revolves around local interests “to really get to the heart of what the community cares about.”

“We’re not seeing that yet,” added Gabbard. “If you’re listening, please send in your questions. We want to hear what the community wants to know from these applicants.”

The council agreed to utilize a typical format and not place additional limits on questions or answers. While it remains unclear how many residents have applied for the vacated seat, Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders noted it was less than expected.

Chair Gina Driscoll explained that each candidate would answer all questions and have three minutes to present a closing statement. All applicants will take questions simultaneously rather than conducting individual interviews, and Councilmember Copley Gerdes stressed that he does not want the meeting to turn into a debate.

Driscoll assured him she would remain vigilant in limiting replies to questions rather than candidate rebuttals. She also agreed to his request for a 10-minute recess between that portion of the meeting and the voting process.

The first candidate to gain four votes from the seven-member council would win, said Driscoll. Similar to a runoff election, she added that they would continue voting until reaching that threshold.

“I just want to make sure this is clear because this is incredibly important,” she said. “We’ve got folks who are really stepping up to serve, and we want to make sure that everything is handled with the highest amount of respect for them, as well.”

District 7 residents have until 5 p.m. Friday to hand deliver required documents to the City Clerk’s Office in City Hall at 175 5th St. N.

For more information and to submit questions, visit the website here.


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