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St. Pete City Council member resigns following housing reports

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg City Council Member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman resigned Thursday, after seven years in office. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg City Council Member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman resigned after evidence showing she moved outside her district surfaced Thursday.

At 1:30 p.m., just as the council meeting began, Vince Nowicki – a former mayoral candidate – emailed public documents to council members and city officials showing that Wheeler-Bowman purchased a house outside her district on July 12. She left the dais after the Pledge of Allegiance and invocation.

City Council Chair Gina Driscoll broke the news to stunned colleagues around 9 p.m., as the meeting concluded.

Documents show that Wheeler-Bowman purchased the house at 1340 Preston St. S. for $292,000 using a Veterans Administration (VA) loan. As Nowicki relayed, the loan stipulates the borrower must use the home as a primary residence. According to city maps, that address is well-inside District 6 – while Wheeler-Bowman represents District 7 – a City Charter violation and cause for removal.

In a Friday morning social media post, Wheeler-Bowman wrote, “God doesn’t close one door without opening another!!!”

As of press time, she could not be reached for comment, and the city did not respond to a Thursday night records request for her resignation letter. Nowicki first made the matter public at around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, during the open forum portion of the city council meeting.

“It doesn’t bring me any joy to do this,” said Nowicki. “But the charter is very clear.”

Wheeler-Bowman has served District 7, which borders the 22nd Street corridor (the Deuces) to its east and the City of Gulfport and 64th Street at its westernmost boundaries, for the last seven years. Her latest voter registration address on file shows Wheeler-Bowman’s address as 4670 22nd Ave. S., according to the voting information website webElect. That location, centered in District 7, is well away from the home she purchased over two months ago.

During the forum, Nowicki relayed that he hired a private investigator to conduct overnight spot checks at the house on Preston Street. He said Wheeler-Bowman’s registered vehicles were there every night.

“Then I dug a little further,” said Nowicki. “Because I didn’t want to believe it at first.”

Nowicki noted Pinellas County held its primary elections in August, and voting outside a person’s registered district would violate state law. He added “he found it odd” that the city attorney and council member both left the meeting at its onset.

“She needs to be removed from office immediately,” said Nowicki. “Facts are stubborn things, and she committed mortgage fraud or moved out of her district.”

About six and a half hours later, Driscoll announced that Wheeler-Bowman had resigned.

After the meeting, Nowicki told the Catalyst he acted on an anonymous tip from a concerned citizen. He then conducted his research and hired a private investigator, which confirmed the allegations.

“I’m sad for Lisa but happy for democracy,” he said. “We are dealing with a city rife with corruption, and there is zero oversight. How much more is out there, and why did it take me – a regular citizen – to uncover this.”

It is unclear who will replace Wheeler-Bowman, but Driscoll said the city council would fill the vacancy. Councilmembers unanimously approved scheduling a Committee of the Whole meeting for Thursday, Sept. 22, to discuss the process.

Former Councilmember Lisa Wheeler-Bowman (right) and Rev. J.C. Pritchett, a close friend and Wheeler-Bowman’s appointee to the St. Petersburg Citizens Redistricting Commission. Photo provided.

Thursday night, Rev. J.C. Pritchett, a close friend and Wheeler-Bowman’s appointee to the St. Petersburg Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC), relayed that “we have great residents in District 7 who could step forward, be appointed and fill that term.” He also reiterated his strong opposition to running for city council.

After spending the last seven years in City Hall, Wheeler-Bowman was term-limited. However, St. Petersburg voters will decide whether to allow elected officials to extend their terms for another year during November’s municipal elections – to accommodate the redistricting process.

During the city council meeting, Nowicki said he “found it interesting” that Pritchett advocated for realigning District 7 in his role on the CRC. The newly proposed boundaries, said Nowicki, would include the house on Preston Street.

After the meeting, Pritchett explained that redistricting maps are subject to the council’s and mayor’s approval, and due to the process, his role on the commission had no impact on the matter. He added that changing the district would only benefit Wheeler-Bowman temporarily as her term ends soon, and it could have unintended consequences regarding the next candidate.

Pritchett said he was unsure why Wheeler-Bowman would move without notifying the city and unaware that the new address placed her out of District 7 until Thursday’s council meeting. He also mentioned the affordable housing crisis plaguing the city and noted the former council member is a military veteran.

“All I know is that this is upsetting,” he said. “People have to make decisions about where they rent, where they can afford to live and where they can purchase a home.

“I’m relieved that anyone in this expensive city – whether they are a student, retiree, schoolteacher or veteran – can find somewhere to live affordably for their family.”

Public service, said Pritchett, requires integrity, character, commitment and sacrifice. He noted that Wheeler-Bowman lost a child to gun violence and has worked to ensure other mothers do not have to feel that pain throughout her time in office. Pritchett added that she was also devoted to increasing affordable housing options and improving the lives of the city’s youth.

“She’s done a great job,” he said. “Over the next few weeks, we’re going to see someone come forward, and they’re going to go through the process. They’re going to finish this term, and they’re going to serve District 7.”

View the documents Nowicki sent to council members and city officials here.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Robin Ruybal

    September 16, 2022at12:05 pm

    Good job Nowicki!

  2. Avatar

    Altamease Caldwell

    September 16, 2022at2:42 pm

    Nowicki seems like you have a lot of time on your hand!!! Get affordable housing for the people I st Petersburg not worry about what district a person lives on !!!

  3. Avatar

    KM

    September 16, 2022at3:16 pm

    Considering the challenges in finding housing, it’s sometimes impossible not to have to move these days for one reason or another. I recently had to move unexpectedly and while I understand Wheeler-Bowman should have notified the City, sometimes it’s impossible to make everything work. It doesn’t seem like something done with bad intention. The question is whether taking action to remove WB was better for the City. I’m not sure how it benefits the residents. Hopefully we can transition smoothly to a new council person but seems like a loss to the city

  4. Avatar

    Karen Kirkpatrick

    September 16, 2022at11:09 pm

    This is an entirely personal comment. In November 2019 I posted on my Facebook page a comment about how I would not be voting for Wheeler-Bowman for reelection and I stated why. A couple of hours later I received a call from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office. It was our current Supervisor of Elections, Julie, but she was deputy at the time. I was a pollworker but not working the city election so my comments were those of a private citizen. Nothing was said in the post about my status. But deep in my profile page there was information I was a pollworker. Wheeler-Bowman had made a stink with the elections office about my post and it was ran in one of the Florida political blogs. The post was not inflammatory in the least. But the Elections office wanted me to remove my post anyway. I refused. I compromised by deleting in my profile my position as a pollworker, something I had be doing with great joy for eight years. Lisa, if you can hear me, what goes around comes around. Your misstep far outweighed mine. I am glad you were called out for violating the city’s charter and I am certain you were aware you were doing it. On the other hand, I was not aware I had done anything wrong at all; I simply was exercising my First Amendment rights as a private citizen, not a pollworker.

  5. Avatar

    Teletha Davis

    September 17, 2022at9:12 am

    I would like to say “thank you Mrs. Wheeler-Bowman for your concerns and efforts in supporting the district I where I reside.” To the City Council, I understand the purpose for policy and that that are to be adhered to. However, and perhaps the Council should consider reviewing those policies which I am certain some of those rules are obscure, doesn’t make sense, and that there are better practices. The tone of Nowicki feels and sounds like a witch-hunt at best. He has attacked Mrs. Bowman’s character and it feels personal! This is not a moral or criminal issue. How does this course of action and Nowicki’s bashing serve the people … I smell a rat!

  6. Avatar

    monah

    September 18, 2022at8:38 pm

    Why didn’t Nowicki call or email Wheeler-Brown to ask about the issue before hiring a PI to spy on someone? Then making a big public gotcha about it? This sounds less like a watchdog and more like a show dog.

  7. Avatar

    Louis Sharpton

    October 5, 2022at9:12 pm

    Understand that a lot of people are struggling with the housing crisis. There are a few things to point out here:

    1). City council members are elected on a city wide basis which restricts our ability to obtain proper representation for our district, and this is an example of council members having little dedication to their district.

    2). The housing costs are high. Most of us can empathize with Lisa that when you have an opportunity to buy a house that you can afford in St Pete, you take it (saying this with no background knowledge of her situation, but this is the real life most of us St Pete residents face).

    3) As representatives of you, it should not only be expected that they hold themselves to the standards of the local bylaws/ordinances/city charter in place, but we should also demand it!

    Bottom line is that Lisa respectfully resigned after the facts were brought forward, but it was a dishonor to her constituents and the city at large and even more so, her district constituents.

    NOTE: the City’s majority voted down the ballot that would have allowed the citizens of St Pete to vote for their own district representative and limit the election to only that district (not the residents on the other side of the peninsula). THE CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS CAMPAIGNED AGAINST THIS BALLOT.

    I hope all of you who have read this and sincerely and with purpose ACT to change this political structure to re-establish your own representation within the your district of St Pete.

    👍

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