St. Petersburg’s city charter is up for review in 2021, and City Council members have begun the process of considering who will take part in that work.
Diversity of the individuals who make up the charter review commission could take a bigger role than in past years, based on preliminary discussions among Council members.
The nine-member commission is made up of one appointee from each of the eight Council members and one appointee from the mayor. A new commission is formed once every 10 years and charged with reviewing the operations of city government. The charter review commission can propose amendments that are up for a city-wide vote. The panel is required to meet by the third week in January and to complete its review and submit a report, including any proposed amendments, by July 31.
“This is really important work we are about to embark on. It is a once-in-a-decade shot to take a closer look at what amounts to our constitution here, the very framework of our city government,” Mayor Rick Kriseman told City Council members meeting as a Committee of the Whole on Sept. 24.
The charter is the document that defines how city government operates and it is not where public policy should unfold, Kriseman said. “I also believe we should take advantage of this opportunity to look at the charter review process itself.”
The charter review commission is not for residents with a casual interest in city government operations or with an agenda or a goal of changing public policy, Kriseman said.
“Think about passionate residents who have the expertise, the time and the desire to dig into what can truly be wonky work,” Kriseman said.
The work can be time-consuming, said City Council member Darden Rice. She served on the 2011 Charter Review Commission, when she was president of the League of Women Voters. The 2011 commission was chaired by former City Council member Virginia Littrell, and Rice chaired the commission’s waterfront subcommittee.
The 2011 commission made a number of recommendations that impacted the city’s waterfront park system. [Read the current city charter here.]
“It’s important to select people who have patience for detail and a fair and methodical approach to issues and a respect for what the process means,” Rice said.
Diversity also should be key, said Council member Amy Foster.
“I was surprised by the process, that it was an individual appointment and there wasn’t some discussion at the Council level about diversity of the committee in a variety of different ways,” Foster said. “Clearly the process is that it’s individual decisions, but I do think [it’s important to have] diversity of thought, diversity in economic representation, race and a number of other things. One of the things we struggle with as a city is to have younger people involved in our decision making process, and we’ve committed to do that.”
Foster also said she might look outside her own district to find an appointee to the commission, while at least a couple of other City Council members said they would want to appoint someone from within their own district to ensure geographic diversity.
“What really counts is we get the nine best people on the commission,” Rice said.
Council members agreed to have further discussion about diversity among panelists at a future meeting. Appointments are expected to be finalized by the end of December.
“Not every mayor or council member gets the opportunity to be part of this process, so we are fortunate I think in that we do get to be part of this,” Kriseman said. “We should take advantage of this opportunity and work to leave our city and our charter even better than we found it.”