Last week at the Friday Morning Group we continued our meetings with St. Petersburg City Council candidates. In the hot seat last week was Bill Dudley, candidate for City Council District 3. So far, no blood has been spilled.
This session started off a little differently. Rather than focusing directly on a candidate's feelings about art funding and appreciation of the arts, Bill Dudley was asked why he was running. This is a question that is more typically asked than the kinds of questions we usually ask candidates.
Bill handled this question with aplomb, as he has doubtless been asked it many times before. He related that he felt a calling to serve, and that he has been a public servant his entire adult life, having been a teacher at North East High until his recent retirement. He also described himself as an independent thinker, not endorsed by the Mayor.
Dudley went on to say that the first issue on his agenda was financial. He said people are suffering from taxes being too high and said that he wanted to streamline the way the City does business. He quickly sensed that that message was not being well received by a group that had just seen arts funding in this City cut to the bone due to tax cuts.
He told us that his daughter is a member of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and also a music teacher; that he had fought for arts funding as chair of the art department at North East High. Dudley stressed that he thought the arts funding shortfalls could be met by reducing the number of high paid city management employees. Among those specifically mentioned for dismissal was the Deputy Mayor for Midtown Development and the Mayor's education initiative liaison.
Bill also suggested that we aren't being creative enough in seeking public / private partnerships for arts funding. He gave one example of a former student of his who now has a very successful business here in town. This person has never been asked to help fund the arts in the community.
We also briefly discussed the future of Al Lang Stadium (after the Devi Rays stop holding their Spring Training games there next year) and other issues relating to development. The new Land Development Regulations (LDRs) the city has just implemented created a new zoning district called Downtown - park. The Al Lang stadium site was not given this zoning designation. Many people are concerned that this would leave the site open fro redevelopment after the Devi Rays cease Spring Training there. Consensus was that the land needed to be protected as a park. Bill Dudley suggested that development be encouraged to spread west out the Central Avenue corridor.
One other area briefly touched on was the tax structure in the state and the country. Bill Dudley indicated he was an advocate of the so called "Fair or flat tax" idea which as I understand it is some variation of a national sales tax.
As I said at the beginning, no blood was shed and Mr. Dudley made it safely through his encounter with the Friday Morning Group. I hope the next politician is similarly fortunate. I know that we will all look forward to seeing you at the next meeting of the Friday Morning Group.