Bill Foster Answers Tough Tiger Bay Questions

01/05/11 Janelle Irwin
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Suncoast Tiger Bay Club Members met this afternoon in St. Petersburg to hear from St. Pete’s Mayor, Bill Foster. Foster answered questions from the audience about important topics affecting the city.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster is beginning his second year in office after his first was marked with varied approval from the community. Tiger Bay member Darryl Paulson introduced Foster to an anxious crowd to give him an opportunity to answer to his mixed review.

"Now, who is Bill Foster? An April 2009 profile in the St. Pete Times said 'to friends, Bill Foster is a well spoken and thoughtful, accessible, inventive, and mayoral person. To critics, Bill Foster is a right wing conservative who has a pattern of inserting religious rhetoric into secular debates.' Well, the question becomes, then, will the real Bill Foster please stand up. I guess we'll find out today who the real Bill Foster is."

Foster stressed the importance he is placing on efficient delivery of services. He says that a local government should run smoothly to accommodate all its residents and he is seeing to it that city services are among top priorities.

"Seamlessness in the delivery of service that you don't have to care how we pick up your garbage and get rid of it, or how we provide water, whether or not that police officer or that firefighter is going to be there. Whether or not that street light works or that pothole gets filled. You don't have to know how we do it, as long as we provide the service. Seamless delivery of service. Same thing with our neighborhoods, seamlessness."

Members of the audience were given opportunities to grill Foster in a timeless Tiger Bay tradition of wining the “Garfield Prize” for the most “insightful question”. One audience member inquired about the possibility of a tax referendum to possibly save St. Petersburg’s iconic Pier. Foster offered possibilities, but said that he is opposed to saving the existing Pier.

"If we're limited to $50 million it's going to be impossible to replace the Pier, and I mean the approach which was early 1920's, replace the pier head early 1920's and then still have enough money at the end of the day to reprogram and renovate the inverted pyramid. If you do that, that's an early 70's pile that that's on, who knows how long that's going to last. It is unacceptable to continue to have a million to a million five annual subsidy to maintain the inverted pyramid."

Another issue was Rick Scott’s controversial plan to implement vouchers, or educational savings, for public school students. Foster was asked his position on the possible impacts this may have on the public school system.

"If it's going to be a detriment to our public schools, being able to properly educate our kids that's a tough one to support now. I could support a voucher system if it was monies in addition to that which is already being budgeted for the public schools."

Foster added his own piece of educational advice and a challenge for listeners. It is a solution he sees as a civic duty.

"And I will challenge all of you, and I don't want to see a raising of hands but every single person in here who can walk and breathe, and who can pay your dues to Tiger Bay, should mentor a child. Should volunteer in a school."

In the end, the “Garfield Prize” went to City of Largo Mayor Patricia Gerard for her question pertaining to the opening of Pinellas County’s Safe Harbor. Foster said he plans to transport homeless people from St. Petersburg both to and from the shelter. Gerard questioned the availability of resources to accomplish the added burden to the city.

"Absolutely I'll bring them back because for those that go voluntarily, and you want to encourage voluntary assistance, but ... I'm preaching to the choir with Pat because she knows the social service ... You want to encourage to voluntarily go into a system where they can, it's a portal, where they can transition out. We want self sufficiency at the end of the day. We want them to graduate to Pinellas HOPE, to help, to the Salvation Army. We don't want them in the system for long."

Foster endured hungry Tiger Bay members with anecdotes from his first year in office.

"Best compliment: 'Mayor, I didn't vote for you but I'm glad you're my mayor.' Loved that one. And I get hit every once in a while; compliments that are not compliments or comments: 'Mayor, I voted for you and I wish I hadn't. You're a complete disappointment.' Compliment that is okay: 'Mayor you're not as ignorant as I thought you would be."

The next Tiger Bay meeting will be held at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club featuring St. Petersburg College President Bill Law on January 21.

Previous WMNF coverage of Bill Foster

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