St. Pete City Council moves confirm a shift in direction at City Hall

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Watson Haynes, Pinellas County Urban League President
  • PCUL
  • Watson Haynes, Pinellas County Urban League President

The Agenda 2020 plan was the big winner at the St. Petersburg City Council meeting on Thursday.

The Council voted to fund a portion of the plan, a pilot program, for "employment anchored, direct services" in collaboration with the Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL) and Agenda 2020 creators.

Funding was approved unanimously in the amount of $74,000 and is intended to provide direct supportive services for employment and training to 24 families in the Midtown area over the next 6 months. The goal of the program is to assist parents in obtaining jobs that pay living wages, thereby strengthening the family unit and moving the families toward self-sufficiency.

Councilman Jim Kennedy, the plan’s biggest critic said, “I still don’t see the sustainability of this.”

“Employment anchored wrap around services have never been tried in this area,” said magazine publisher, Gypsy Gallardo citing similar programs in other cities that have had measurable success.

The pilot program is a small component of the ambitious $170 million Agenda 2020 plan which seeks to reduce poverty by 30 percent within 5 years in the poverty besieged Midtown area.

Kennedy responded, “Where did the grant writing go? Your program you had at the workshop is so drastically different it makes me uncomfortable.”

Deputy Mayor, Kanika Tomalin interjected, “[The plan] has the commitment of staff to move this forward.”

This week, in negotiations between the city and the Agenda 2020 plan creators as well as PCUL leadership, the city assigned three staffers to assist with economic development and grant writing

“[The plan] represents a mind shift. A shift away from managing poverty to eradicating poverty,” said Councilwoman Darden Rice, a plan supporter.

Another supporter, Councilwoman Amy Foster told the chamber that according to her research, a similar plan in Savannah, GA was achieving success in reducing poverty.

Council Chairman Bill Dudley said, “I want to know who is being held accountable? It’s our duty to vet that out.”

Watson Haynes, president and CEO of PCUL assured the council that Urban League is the natural choice to function as the fiscal agent for the plan. He stated that PCUL's high degree of credibility in the community and reputation of integrity made the League the natural choice and noted that, "We receive audits [by the] National Urban League annually.”

In other matters the council approved the $50,000 Skyway Marina District plan. Reached later for comment, Jodi Davis, president of the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association , said that she was thrilled with the decision and conceded that now is the time "to roll up our sleeves."

Council allocated $30,000 to partially fund an economic study geared toward helping St. Pete attract industries that have high wage jobs. The remainder of the funds for the $120,000 study will come from private sources.

"This is a pittance of what we are going to need to kick in," said Chairman Bill Dudley. He then conceded that it was a good investment and in line with the city’s overall plan to bring high wage jobs.

Earlier in the meeting Councilman Steve Kornell urged representatives from the groups to be mindful as they set their plans in motion of the high number of hard-to-hires residing in St. Pete.

"These are people who want to work. They come out of prison after having [paid their dues] and are punished for life because they can not get a job," he said.

All three agenda items passed unanimously. Taken together, they unmistakably signal a directional shift in City Hall's priorities away from downtown, the Pier and baseball toward a more inclusive, balanced approach to citywide governance.

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