From the Dali, Grand Prix and Beach Drive downtown; a new grocery store, hospital clinic and post office in Midtown; and new parks, dog parks and bike trails in our neighborhoods, Rick Baker advanced a forward-thinking agenda that can now be seen in every part of our city.
With input from residents across St. Petersburg, and with an eye to making St. Petersburg the best city in America, we are proud to present “The Baker Blueprint”. From jobs and economic empowerment, to schools, neighborhoods, the arts, our environment, and public safety, this “blueprint” will guide Rick Baker’s efforts to restore competence, commitment and honesty to City Hall.
The “blueprint” by design is a living document that will evolve with further input from you, the people of St Petersburg, to enhance the quality of life for everyone living here.
We are “ALL IN” for St Petersburg.
1: PUBLIC SAFETY
Public safety is THE number one job of any mayor in any city in the United States. I take it very seriously, and here are my priorities:
- OFFICERS: We must ensure we have an adequate number of well-trained, well-equipped and highly motivated officers who are respected by everyone in a very diverse city.
- EMERGENCY OPERATIONS: Hurricane Irma was the most recent reminder that where we live is both beautiful and vulnerable. I will work closely with St Pete’s Police and Fire Chiefs to make sure we are extremely prepared to respond before AND after the storm, with updated contingency plans and backed by a revolving committee that each season will review and assess our responses to both natural and man-made crises.
- AUTO THEFT: NO ONE should go to bed at night wondering if their car will be there in the morning, and yet we’ve seen a sharp increase in auto thefts. On my first day I will work with Chief Holloway to reestablish an Auto Theft Unit eliminated by the current mayor, and to make this crime a renewed focus in and beyond the Police Department.
- STREET CRIMES: Many of our neighbors both north and south are forced to co-exist with street crimes, like increased drug dealing and prostitution, often in view of their children. Just like auto thefts, I will reinstitute a Street Crimes Unit that for some reason was mothballed by the current mayor.
- OPIOIDS: Too many of our citizens lose loved ones to the misuse and overuse of opioids, a local problem that’s part of a national epidemic. We will work overtime, in cooperation with law enforcement and substance abuse organizations to expand education and treatment while putting those responsible for this on notice that we will have zero tolerance for their role in promoting it. A positive example of partnering in the drug rehabilitation area is the Davis-Bradley center in Midtown – we worked during my term to get the operating funding from the state and Westcare presently operates the facility.
- NEIGHBORHOOD POLICING: In meetings with the Chief, his staff, and neighborhood leaders we will seek ways to implement improvements in neighborhood policing that delivers some peace of mind to people and families concerned about crime closest to where they live.
- MIDTOWN STATS: We can only address crime in Midtown, and elsewhere, with timely and accurate reporting of crime statistics, an approach that has been rejected by our current mayor. There’s been a recent, significant crime spike in Midtown, and I will call for separate measurement of crime there so we can better identify it, deal with it, and eliminate it. Our current mayor has stopped tracking and reporting crime in Midtown.
- MURDER: Why is it that the number of murders have almost doubled, from 11 during my last year in office to 20 murders under Mr. Kriseman last year? Violence begets violence, and we will work without rest to stop the killings – law enforcement, education and jobs for youth have a role in this and all crime.
- TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY & DIALOGUE: I will establish accurate, transparent reporting practices to ensure resources are allocated to the greatest areas of need. I will immediately begin the expansion of dash cams for our police cars; study the reasons behind the dramatic reduction of citizens’ complaints being reported by the police department; and begin a dialogue with the police, City Council and citizens over the continued expansion of dash cams and the suggested use of body cams.
Rest assured that a Baker Administration, like before, will be ALL IN for our neighborhoods! They are what make our city unique and appealing, and we will directly partner with neighborhood leaders to constantly improve, nourish and protect them.
- DEPUTY MAYOR: Neighborhoods are so important to me that on day one I will again appoint a Deputy Mayor for Neighborhoods, an important position that was rejected by the current administration. Deputy Mayors report directly to the mayor, and we want neighborhood leaders to always have a direct line to the mayor’s office.
- NEIGHBORHOOD PRESIDENT COFFEES: I had a priority of having regular morning coffees with small groups of neighborhood presidents and members of my staff in the mayor’s office. These were relaxed but productive gatherings with no agenda other than to listen to what is going on in their neighborhoods, everything from planning and public safety to code enforcement. It is problem solving at the street level. It is also a chance for leaders to share and learn from each other. These will be scheduled at least monthly.
- PLAY ‘N’ CLOSE TO HOME: We will finish what I began by ensuring every child in the City is within a safe one-half-mile walk of a city playground. Play ‘N’ Close to Home was almost 80% completed when I left office, yet remains unfinished. For me that leaves too many children without access to a park playground. My opponent doesn’t feel this is a priority; I do!
- REPLICATE DELL HOLMES PARK: The Dell Holmes park and playground is one of the most successful projects we completed. Building on that success, I will build a large playground/water feature/picnic shelter park at Spa Beach on the Pier approach. I will also work with neighborhoods on the west side to explore locations for a similar signature playground.
- BIKING & WALKING: Our citizens love biking, but many lack bike trails near their homes and fear riding in traffic. I will expand the CityTrails program I established to build the largest bike path system in the southeast United States. In walking this city and listening to citizens I am aware that our sidewalks still need more repair, expansion and crosswalk safety options. In my first 6 months, and working with Council, we will build on my very successful CityTrails program to develop an aggressive plan that addresses these needs. St. Pete progressed from being named the #1 pedestrian mean street city in the United Stated during the year before I took office, to becoming one of America’s top ten bicycle cities, thanks to CityTrails. Let’s shoot for #1!
- GREEN CITY: I will be the greenest mayor in St. Pete history, something I began during my term when we made St Petersburg “Florida’s First Designated Green City”. I agree with the priorities I have heard from citizens: fix Rick Kriseman’s sewer plant mistakes and stop his spills that have been devastating to our city and state environment; reverse City Hall’s backsliding in cleaning up of Lake Maggiore; expand the SunLit City Parks solar program (building upon what we started 10 years ago); renew extensive tree planting (we should exceed the 20,000 planted during my previous administration); expand energy saving programs; and expand on our water conservation efforts. As former co-chair of Governor Charlie Crist’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change, I know that adaptation strategies are critical to address sea level rise – it takes more than press conferences and high paid staff positions – it is time to roll up our sleeves.
- DOG PARKS: I was proud to have opened the first St. Petersburg Dog Park, and we built these throughout the city. They have become special places for both our four-legged friends and their human companions. Zero new dog parks have been created by our current mayor. As mayor, I will actively seek neighborhood input, and advocate for the expansion of dog parks so all citizens can enjoy this unique experience.
- LIBRARIES: Reading opens the world up to every child while stimulating creativity and a hunger for knowledge. We built four new libraries during my term in office and upgraded the others. The modern libraries help bridge the technology gap for low income children and adults. We will continue my prior focus on promoting greater availability and access for citizens, focusing not just on books but computer technology as well.
- BLUE WAYS: I will expand the kayak Blue Ways trails we established in coastal waters.
- TRADITIONAL NEIGHBORHOODS & PRESERVATION: We will make historic preservation a true priority moving forward. This not only fosters neighborhood stability, but maintains the unique architecture and atmosphere of our city. The recent loss of the historic Central National Bank building was sad and unnecessary.
- NOISE: This has become a significant issue, especially downtown, where many new residents continue to have concerns about the increasing level of noise. We will enforce the existing (or any new) noise ordinance, something the current mayor has not done, including taking appropriate legal action when necessary against repeat violators.
3: SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION
I am passionate about access to quality education. To that end, I believe in these two mathematical formulas: (1) “A” schools = future opportunity; and (2) failing schools = limited hope. Period. We want to bring more and better-paying jobs to our city, but it is equally important that our citizens – especially our young people – have the skills needed to obtain and hold these jobs. The following are my year one priorities:
- APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM: Work with the Association of Builders and Contractors (ABC) and Tampa Bay Builders (TBB) to expand their current Apprenticeship Program (currently serving over 500 apprentices in Tampa) to St. Pete as a “Mayor’s Apprenticeship” branded program. This groundbreaking initiative provides paid jobs for high school graduates/GEDs in the building trades (carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc.) along with scholarships and training for certification. Look for similar opportunities with other trades as well (auto repair, culinary, etc.).
- SCHOLARSHIPS: Double the number of Mayor’s Doorways Scholarships (now called “Take Stock in Children”) from the 1000 we previously funded during my term with privately-raised dollars. These scholarships are lifesavers, and provide an incredible incentive for children in the free and reduced lunch program to graduate from high school and go on to college or trade school. This was one of our most impactful achievements during my time as mayor.
- SCHOOL SAFETY: Work with our schools to focus on classroom safety and discipline to enable a healthy and fear-free learning environment.
- TOP APPLE: We are going to establish the Top Apple program to provide principals and assistant principals with privately-funded incentives when a school achieves success. We did it before but it was dropped by our current mayor; now we are going to do it even better!
- TEACHER A-PLUS LOANS: Using state housing funds, re-establish a zero-interest housing loan program for teachers who work at a public school in the city and want to live in the city. This gives teachers more time to focus on what they do best: teach.
- BUSINESS PARTNER PROGRAM: Reinvigorate the business partner program in our public schools (we privately recruited 100 businesses) and expand on the partnerships that provide tutors, strategic help, volunteers and badly needed resources to our public schools. These business are great assets and they want to be part of the solution – we need to call them off the bench!
- CLOSING THE GAP: Become a full partner with Pinellas County Schools to implement the “Close the Gap” program to turn around those schools in St. Pete that are currently struggling.
- BUILD UPON PROVEN SUCCESS: During our prior terms the number of A elementary schools increased from zero to 16 out of 27, and our number of A and B schools increased by 260%. This achievement, accomplished as a team with parents, students, teachers and the public school administration, stands in stark contrast to the widely-publicized “Failure Factories” status under Rick Kriseman’s administration. We can and will do better!
4: JOBS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Any successful city must have great jobs and a vibrant economy so all residents can earn the type of living that provides the greatest opportunity for themselves and their children. That is why I want St Pete to once again become a dynamic leader on this front, leaving no one behind.
CITY WIDE IDEAS
- SUPPORT OF EXISTING BUSINESSES: My staff and I will meet regularly with business leaders at their company and ask (1) What are we doing right?; (2) What are we doing wrong and how can we improve?; (3) Are they considering expansion and how can we help?; and (4) Are they thinking about downsizing/leaving and what can we proactively do to prevent that? I will also ask them to hold me accountable on these 3 fronts: communication, active support, and follow-through. 80% of new jobs in the city each year come from existing businesses, and I intend to make those businesses partners in, and to, our success.
- PROACTIVE APPROACH: We will not wait for companies to come to us; we will go to them. To that end, we will work aggressively with the Chamber’s EDC along with county and state partners, and others focused on growing areas where we have existing strengths. Effective mayoral leadership will help the Chamber’s EDC achieve tangible results. Among others, this list includes medical and electronics manufacturing, defense, marine sciences, financial services, and the arts. We did this before with Valpak, Johns Hopkins, Stanford Research Institute (SRI) marine science, Draper Labs, the dramatic expansion of Raymond James, the downtown consolidation of Duke Energy Florida headquarters and many others. We will also look at possible international connections to other cities that could benefit us in terms of business, trade and cultural exchange – but these contacts must be results-oriented. As a former Chamber Chair, I will not be passive in the pursuit of economic growth.
- BUILDING DEPARTMENT: It is widely-known there are significant delays and inconsistencies in the permitting department, causing increased costs (and in some cases lost opportunity) to homeowners and developers. This must stop. I will immediately activate a plan that includes deadline goals for turnaround, identification and correction of problems, together with early morning quarterly meetings with builders, developers, and senior city staff to flush out, and fix, these problems.
- BUSINESS ASSISTANCE CENTER: Small businesses are crucial to our growth and to our jobs. Therefore, I will immediately bring the Business Assistance Center back to life to provide focused assistance to small and start-up businesses. When a small business owner takes a risk and is trying to make the city a better place, shouldn’t we provide the best support we can? That’s not happening today, and it’s hurting this city. One model we will adopt is already done in New York City, providing small retailers access to advice in negotiating leases in order to help them protect against being priced out of their space.
- LESS USE OF CONSULTANTS: Reduce dependence on expensive, time-consuming consultants in the planning phase; use only when absolutely necessary and negotiate fees.
- RETAIL: – Our decision during my term to redevelop Sunken Gardens and bring Carrabba’s to 4th Street North sparked the strong in-town retail that defines that corridor today – restaurants, shopping and small business. Elsewhere in this Blueprint, I describe an approach to retail in Midtown and Downtown. As mayor, I will target at least two additional areas (there may be others) that need attention, where retail could drive jobs and consumer choice:
- TYRONE: Support branding, pedestrian connectivity and other assistance for our city’s primary retail center.
- SOUTH ST. PETE:
- Coquina Key Shopping Center. Working in partnership with the property owner, advocate for redeveloping and upgrading the Coquina Key shopping center that has been long ignored by the city and is long overdue.
- 62nd Ave. South Grocery Store Site. Focus on a replacement for the lost SweetBay grocery store on 62nd Avenue South and Dr. MLK Jr. Street.
- South US 19. Recruit retail and restaurants along south U.S. 19, in addition to the Walmart superstore we brought during my term. Think Outback, Carrabbas, Home Depot, Lowes, others. This is a must, and is entirely doable.
- Skyway District. Continue the city’s partnership with the Skyway District.
- GENERAL: While a major retail center, many don’t know the products and services that are available downtown. I will develop a program for more and better promotions and communication. As mayor I will redouble stalled efforts to bring major company headquarters to St. Petersburg. That means jobs, customers and revenue.
- DISTRICTS: We will more aggressively support all downtown districts and main street programs.
- INNOVATION DISTRICT: I will complete the pedestrian connector, monument signage, and branding efforts on an expedited basis (five years in process so far).
- WAREHOUSE ARTS DISTRICT: I will complete the pedestrian connector, monument signage, and branding effort on an expedited basis (over two years in process so far).
- MAIN STREET DISTRICT: I will continue the City’s partnership with our Main Street accredited programs at Grand Central, The Deuces and The EDGE.
- CENTRAL AVENUE PARKING WEST OF 4TH STREET: I will immediately work with retailers to address the parking challenges that hinder businesses here. Driving around the block looking for parking is not a viable option. The solutions must also work for taxpayers.
- THE PIER: Like many citizens I believe the Pier was, and should again become, an icon of our city. I constantly hear from residents that they felt betrayed when the current mayor ignored the outcome of a promised public vote favoring local architects that proposed keeping elements of the past with a look to the future. Going forward as mayor I will immediately address the following:
- COST: Seek out ways to address the massive multi-million dollar overspending, far in excess of the original Pier budget. I am also concerned by the large increase in the annual operating subsidy planned by the current mayor and will work with others to get that back to a more manageable subsidy. The effort is made more challenging by the current mayor’s attempt to lock in the overspending through commitments being made now.
- REVISE THE PLAN: Stop the current administration’s plan to build two concrete buildings on our historic waterfront parkland. This effort is a betrayal of our founders’ stewardship of the precious waterfront parkland – and more importantly it is a theft of our future generations’ public land. My alternate vision is a plan for green space and signature playground/water features/picnic pavilions at Spa Beach similar to the features we built at Dell Holmes Park, which draws thousands of children and adults from throughout the city. This will immediately return the long-sought vitality to the pier. Also, explore ways to modify the Pier head building to make it less nondescript and more iconic. I will reach out to a variety of local architects for creative ideas – our community deserves more than Rick Kriseman has settled for.
- GET IT DONE: While modifying the approach, stay on schedule for completion. The project is already two years past the time the current mayor promised completion – no more delays!
- TROPICANA FIELD SITE: Make no mistake the biggest project we as a city will likely undertake in the next 10 years is the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. It is imperative that we have the best and most creative business, design, and economic development people focused on this, and that citizens be given a real seat at the table. It is also critical that we have a mayor who has the experience, negotiating skill and capability to seize on the opportunities for our city.
- RAYS: Let me be very clear: my first goal is to retain the Rays in St. Petersburg, even though the current mayor has given up our rights and allowed the team a chance to look elsewhere – making retaining the team much, much harder. It was a horrible deal for our city! Yet any stadium solution must not increase our taxes. To that end, I will work with City Council and the Pinellas County Commission to aggressively pursue this. Baseball has a long history here and we will do whatever we can to extend this tradition. A redeveloped downtown Rays site should include housing, business and retail components, along with expanded green space.
- OTHER DEVELOPMENT: If the Rays do not stay downtown, we will develop a plan for the Trop site that includes areas for business/employment locations, supporting retail, hotel and housing (especially workforce housing). A significant portion – at least one third – of the site should be dedicated to public green space. As a portion of the green space we will aggressively consider the development of a lake – tied to our existing storm water creek – with surrounding park – think Mirror Lake with more green space. Finally, the people of Midtown who originally gave up much for this site must be included in the discussion – and in the end of the day there must be a benefit to both the city and the Midtown community – especially the reality of long-promised jobs for the community.
- EVENTS: Continuously look for opportunities to expand the downtown event experiences, and actively support the ones we have, such as the Grand Prix, St. Petersburg Bowl, First Night, Friday Night Shuffle and Saturday Morning Market that began during my prior term, and the Rowdies MLS effort that I led after leaving office. Brand the “St. Petersburg” name whenever possible!
- CONVENTION & CONFERENCE SPACE: Explore opportunities to expand conference or convention space downtown in association with the growing downtown tourism and hospitality industry.
- PEDESTRIAN CONNECTORS: We started the downtown pedestrian connector program and plan to expand it, especially into blossoming areas like Central Avenue, Edge District, Grand Central, Warehouse Arts District, Innovation District and 4th Street Intown.
- HOMELESS: The approach to the homeless population must be more than simply pushing them from one area of the city to another. There continues to be a need for transitional housing that gives homeless individuals the opportunity to stabilize and work toward becoming independent. During our term we partnered with Catholic Charities to create Pinellas Hope in mid-county, a facility where over 350 homeless individuals will sleep tonight, providing them with a safe place to get off the street and work toward a point where they can support themselves. More needs to be done in this area – especially with regard to emergency housing for homeless parents with children, a situation that is at a crisis point in our county. As before, we will focus both on keeping a positive environment in our city, developing more opportunities to help the individual in need and partnering whenever possible.
- EXTEND BEACH DRIVE: Everyone loves walking along the sidewalk cafes of Beach Drive in our Downtown. I will work to extend the walkway all the way to the Dali Museum! Our downtown waterfront is one of the best and now we have a chance to make it even better.
The keys to the Midtown development effort are, first, expansion of resources and assets in the community and, second, expansion of opportunities for those in the community.
- OUTREACH: When I say I am ALL IN for St. Petersburg I mean all in for every area. We will be seeking input from the citizens of Midtown and Childs Park, through a series of community gatherings, asking them as I always have for suggestions on development in their community. The ultimate plan will reflect this input. We have had remarkable success in the past, and we will again.
- RESOURCES/ASSETS: Issues and ideas I have heard while campaigning:
- Urgently work to replace the assets lost by the current mayor – a new grocery store, and replacements for Walgreen’s and Sylvia’s. To see residents waiting in line at a convenience market after Hurricane Irma because there was no other grocery option was heartbreaking, and must stop. Reject plans that gentrify the community such as the current mayor’s plan to put a BMW dealership on the historic Sno-Peak site and a Cuban restaurant at the Manhattan Casino.
- Needed activities for youth beginning with exploring the idea of a roller skating rink for youth.
- Ensure Midtown CRA funds are used for improvements that benefit the people of Midtown – reject efforts to use them for inappropriate purposes – such as the current mayor’s efforts to divert Midtown CRA money to his political party. On this front I will be adamant.
- During our administration we brought in a SweetBay grocery store; post office retail center; Dell Holmes Park; Royal Theater redevelopment; GTE Federal Credit Union; Enoch Davis Center upgrades; Mercy Hospital Clinic; Davis-Bradley Drug Rehabilitation Center; Childs Park Swimming Pool, YMCA and football fields; Manhattan Casino rebuild and others. Four years from now, you will know that we were just warming up!
- Expand the college scholarships and school programs described in the Education section above.
- Add an apprenticeship program in order to give potential job holders the skills they need to obtain and hold jobs, also as described in the Education section.
- Expand the SPC presence on 22nd Street South to provide more opportunities and a greater campus experience.
- During my term we brought SPC, Job Corps and Jordan School Head Start to Midtown. We will build from there!
ARTS, CULTURE, BRANDING
Thanks to many people over multiple decades, we have developed an amazing arts scene in St. Petersburg. On any given evening the richness of our creative citizens is on display in theater, music (ranging from jazz and classical to hip hop and choral), ballet and dance, visual artists (both world renowned and emerging), film festivals, and of course our incredible mural fest! What a gift our artistic citizens give us, yet most of them pursue their passions despite the obstacles of finances. Our current city administration has boasted greatly about the arts when talking about the city, but could have done more to encourage and accelerate this important area. I believe the Arts is one of our most significant assets and one that is of great interest nationally and globally. It’s time City Hall understood that, and did something about it.
- Marketing: We will aggressively move to market the arts. I will empower a senior level arts position in my administration to be responsible for marketing, arts, communication, culture, international, branding, and promotion with overlaps into education and economic development. Marketing this great asset is important not only for the economic success of the artists but also for the city as a whole. Arts creates jobs. Arts draws tourists. Arts defines a community.
- Arts Degrees: We have heard from many members of the arts community that having an arts degree available in St. Petersburg would further our presence in the global art world. We worked hard to obtain the Savannah College of Art and Design here when I was mayor, and nearly succeeded. I commit to pursuing such a degree here, either in partnership with USFSP, Eckerd College, SPC, or by enticing a degree program to move to St. Petersburg.
- Giving Our Artists Visibility: I will direct my senior staff to look for ways to connect our art scene with national and global events. We want our artists to be noticed and we want to assist them in finding buyers and viewers. There is no reason why we should not have a presence at Art Basel in Miami (one of the largest art gatherings in the world).
- Joint Marketing: Our marketing and promotion efforts should work in concert with all of the arts organizations. The Arts Alliance does a terrific job and we need to look for more ways to partner with them and with Creative Pinellas in furthering the marketing.
- The St Pete Music Scene: One of my personal passions is playing the guitar, so I have had a love of music for a very long time. We have so many incredible musicians in our area and our administration will look for ways to expand and market music from and for St Pete. I like what Et Cultura has done locally and will encourage that event, and others like it, that feature local musicians. Think Austin.
- Artist Work Space: Attract artists to relocate here by supporting efforts to expand work space for artist. Space in major areas like NYC and Los Angeles can be prohibitive for both experienced and young emerging artists. St. Petersburg offers a great place for creative expression, and historically has been more affordable, but as success comes, affordability is an issue.
- Prior Progress: While I was mayor, we rebuilt the Mahaffey Theater and worked to bring the Dalí downtown along with Chihuly, the new American Stage, the Florida Orchestra headquarters, the SPC Palladium Theater, the expanded Fine Arts Museum, and others. We also created St. Pete Arts, a collaborative of arts administrators that ultimately led to the St. Pete Arts Alliance. After leaving office I co-founded the Warehouse Arts District. This is a great foundation, but we can do so much more if we turn words into actions!
I will work with all members of the Arts community to make St. Petersburg one of the great Arts destinations in the United States!
5: CITY SERVICES
A city must provide great services in the most cost efficient way. Our city should and will track how it is doing and how we can improve.
- CITY SCORECARD:
- We will immediately put back online the City Scorecard, performance measures in readable, graph form measuring significant aspects of the city’s success in accomplishing the plan moving forward. The scorecard becomes a management tool to improve all operations of the city – across the board. I don’t understand why our current mayor removed the City Scorecard and I believe that every taxpayer has a right to know how our government is performing.
- Examples of City Scorecard metrics include school performance, crime rates, permitting turnaround, emergency response time, sidewalk and pothole repair time, tax rates, trees planted, sewer repair progress, bridge replacement and others – 160 measures altogether across the five strategic areas of Public Safety, Neighborhoods, Schools, Economic Development and City Services. This information belongs to the people of St Petersburg, open and available for all to see. It will be constantly reviewed by our internal auditors to prevent political tampering.
- SEWER SYSTEM: The criminal and civil investigations of the Kriseman administration’s sewage spill, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife report that followed, have made it clear the cause of the crisis was Mayor Kriseman’s premature shut-down of the Albert Whitted Treatment Plant, along with his refusal to re-open the plant after his first spill of 31 million gallons occurred four months after the closure. Trust me, I will be rolling up my sleeves and aggressively addressing this area on Day One.
- We will immediately work with state environmental regulators toward the goal of reopening the downtown sewer plant (treating up to 25 million gallons per day) which was prematurely taken offline by the current mayor. The problem is complicated by his efforts to dismantle portions of the plant.
- We will continue efforts, accelerated during my administration, to repair and upgrade our sewer plants and distribution system. This includes seeking budget support from the state for new infrastructure, and devising a plan to reduce the financial impact on the rate paying public – especially those in low income categories – who now face soaring utility bill hikes.
- Most importantly, I will openly and honestly tell the citizens what’s going on, even if it’s bad news, in contrast to the current mayor who consciously and purposely misled, misinformed and lied to us about the cause of the spills and the existence of sewage pollution in Clam Bayou and in our west side neighborhoods. We will also create an atmosphere where employees can feel safe telling the truth; today employees are seeking whistle-blower protection from City Hall insiders so they won’t be punished for telling the residents what’s going on. I will also work closely with City Council, keeping them informed and in the loop – not treat them as afterthoughts as has happened in the recent past.
- REAL ESTATE TAX RATE: The real estate tax rate under the current administration is about 14%+ higher than my last budget in 2010. During my term I had reduced the tax rate by almost 20%. We will evaluate opportunities for tax rate reduction in light of recent record levels of revenue coming into the city, but record expenditures going out by our current mayor. There has been an indifferent disregard by our current mayor of the costs he is putting on the taxpayers and ratepayers of our city. That approach will end!
- STORMWATER SYSTEM: We will work with USF Marine Science and others to evaluate and modify the existing storm water improvement plan in consideration of existing needs and projected sea level changes!
Faith-based organizations provide a significant benefit to the people in our community in multiple ways – with their focus on improving the lives of individuals in our city. As we did before, we will actively look for ways to partner with faith-based organizations, especially in the social service area, as we work to build a seamless city.
Statement on Diversity
Diversity is the fabric of our community. I have always believed in building a seamless city – where no one is left out. My administration has and will include and work with everyone in all parts of our city, no matter one’s faith, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, economic level or other. Without limitation, this includes a recognition that many in our African American and LGBTQ community, and others, have in the past felt less than full partners in our city’s journey – and a commitment that our work will continue to change both the perception and reality of that feeling. We will only live up to our great potential as a city if everyone is included and we are weaker when anyone is left behind.
I look forward to continuing our discussion about St. Pete’s future!
– Rick Baker