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Ten years ago, St. Petersburg voted to increase protections for the city’s parks and waterfront in the City Charter. The city’s residents decided the waterfront was so essential to the character and well-being of our city that they rightfully wanted to ensure it would be protected, no matter who’s serving in City Hall.
This year, the voters of St. Petersburg have another opportunity to shape our charter to reflect the values we hold so dear. St. Petersburg prides itself on being a city “where the sun shines on all who come to live, work, and play,” and that pride in inclusiveness and diversity can be seen throughout the city.
However, recent studies have found the sun does not shine equally on all of St. Petersburg. A recent study found racial and gender disparities in the city’s contracts, leaving women-owned and minority-owned businesses to miss out on key opportunities. Another study sponsored by the city found structural racism continues to create and maintain disparities and called for the creation of an office for equity, funding, and more long-term solutions like an equity plan. In addition, our own 2019 Civic Health Study found that Black survey respondents were significantly less likely than white respondents to report that people like them have a say in what the local government does.
The data is clear: For St. Petersburg to be competitive and resilient in the 21st century, we must close these equity gaps.
The St. Petersburg Charter Review Commission has recommended two charter amendments that aim to address long-standing inequities that hold the city back from living up to its civic and economic potential.
Amendment 3 proposes to establish a plan to address equity issues such as housing, health and economic opportunity for St. Petersburg, and to create a new charter position of Chief Equity Officer to oversee implementation of this plan. The Chief Equity Officer would also coordinate community outreach on equity issues. Amendment 4 would require the city to provide and protect funding for equity-related initiatives.
These amendments seek to address disparities by race, ethnicity and other demographic characteristics at all levels of city government and public involvement. They seek to promote equity throughout the entire St. Petersburg community.
These amendments represent a concrete attempt to ensure the sun shines on all of St. Petersburg, which is why the League of Women Voters of the St Petersburg Area urges voters to vote yes on both of these amendments.
Our reasoning for supporting these amendments is simple: The current piecemeal approach to dealing with inequity has not worked. If it had, we would not be seeing study after study highlighting the vast inequities in our community.
We need a new approach. We need to embed equity into the charter to ensure we don’t risk repeating the city’s past mistakes. Amendments 3 and 4 create mechanisms and measures to which our elected city officials can – and should – be held accountable for creating a government that works for all of us.
St. Petersburg has decided that our waterfront is valuable enough to be protected by our City Charter. It’s long past time for us to value the city’s diverse communities as well.
Linsey Grove is President, League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area