St. Pete City Council member Newton told to leave Pier discussion
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01/07/13 Janelle Irwin
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More than 20,000 St. Petersburg residents signed a petition to stop city council members from demolishing the iconic downtown pier. Those petitioners want voters to decide what happens to the inverted pyramid and city council member Wengay Newton is one of them. At a press conference Monday he said city legal staff kicked him out of a closed door discussion about the Pier.

“Well, I’m going to ask them, and hopefully request the transcript and recording of that meeting because I was supposed to be in there.”

The Pier is scheduled to be torn down this Spring to make way for an over-water pedestrian and bike path known as the Lens. After the design was chosen out of several in an international competition, a group of people against it started speaking out. The group started a massive petition drive that was ignored by city council – with the exception of Newton.

“My main complaint is, the people of this city should be allowed to vote. It was never about me … ”

So he added his name to the list of signatures to be certified by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. That’s why he was asked to recuse himself from discussions involving the Pier. Even though Newton signed a petition, he did not end up on the list of people suing the city. He said that’s because his name was filed after petitioners had already submitted the necessary number to put the measure on a ballot.

“What you have there is 15,652 signatures that are on that lawsuit. That’s the only people named … I was in the total batch but I wasn’t part of the lawsuit … ”

Newton said it took him five minutes to find out from the Supervisor of Election’s office that he wasn’t named on the lawsuit. It’s a technicality, but Newton argues that doesn’t matter.

“Well, you could say that African-Americans are suing the city. I happen to be one of them. Do I have to recuse myself then?”

The petition drive was started by St. Pete resident Tom Lambdon. Even though he said Newton’s name being left off of the lawsuit was unintended, he still knows why it happened.

“The only people on that petition that I held back on a multi-signature form from November 10th, 2010 that we did at the pier was my family – last name Lambon – and my buddy here.”

The Pier will be discussed again at the regular city council meeting on Thursday. Newton said he will attend that meeting until he is asked to leave. Former city council member and attorney Kathleen Ford is representing the group of petitioners who want to vote on the Pier. Their lawsuit could force city council to put the measure on a ballot as soon as this November.



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