The St. Pete Chamber’s Inaugural Legislative Forecast, presented by Corcoran & Johnston in partnership with Tampa Bay Water, was held at the Hilton Carillon on Friday, December 15, 2017. Over 60 business and community leaders got an inside sneak peak on the expectations for the 2018 Legislative Session from State Representatives Ben Diamond, Kathleen Peters, and Wengay Newton, as well as from State Senator Daryl Rouson.
Home Rule, auto thefts, medical marijuana, mental health, and budget requests were among the items discussed and all the attendees came away with a good idea for what to expect from our State Legislature next year. Thank you to the legislators and our Moderator, Barclay Harless, for the excellent discussion.
On August 8th, a combination of popcorn, pints and politics drew over 150 Chamber members to 3 Daughters Brewing for a dynamic event. Who said politics can’t be fun?
Presented by AARP and Spectrum, Popcorn, Pints & Politics offered members an opportunity to engage in informal conversations with 15 City Council and Mayoral candidates. While enjoying 3 Daughters pints, popcorn and appetizers from Urban Brew & BBQ, attendees were able to walk around and mingle as they moved from table to table, speaking to each candidate.
Members participated in a straw poll that asked them to rank the candidates' strengths on the issues important to the Chamber. The results of the straw poll can be seen here.
In addition to this event, the Chamber has launched an online resource for members to learn more about the candidates. Visit St. Petersburg Election Season 2017 to view candidate profiles which include their campaign video and their answers to a questionnaire regarding the Chamber's strategic priorities.
STRONGEST ISSUES CHOSEN BY STRAW POLL PARTICIPANTS
District 2 Candidates
District 4 Candidates
District 6 Candidates
With advisory board members gathered around a table at the Florida Holocaust Museum, the meeting began with a moving video--Inclusion Starts With I. Starring a diverse cast that shares how they are affected by bias in their everyday lives, the three-and-a-half-minute film “demonstrates that bias can appear in both expected and unexpected ways—and that each of us has the power to make a difference” (Accenture). As the film came to an end, Ronnell Montgomery with the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center noted that she liked how the video started with inclusion (rather than diversity). Others shared that they appreciated how those in the video were very honest about their lives.
The Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion (DI&I) Advisory Board was formed to ensure the presence of diversity and the practice of inclusion in everything the Chamber does. Currently in its first phase, the advisory board meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month. The advisory board’s July 26 meeting was hosted by the Florida Holocaust Museum.
Reviewing some preliminary data on diversity within the Chamber, the advisory board carefully evaluated what the findings meant and what additional data could be gathered. One insight the discussion uncovered is that the diversity of large businesses that have numerous diverse employees may not be reflected in data that classifies businesses as minority-owned or non-minority-owned. The group came to a consensus that this issue could be addressed by sending questions to large businesses that are different from those that are sent to small businesses in a future survey. For example, large businesses could be asked if they have a program that fosters inclusion or if they have any minorities in leadership positions, while small businesses could be asked if they are minority-owned. This data would help paint a clearer picture of diversity within the Chamber.
The advisory board also discussed ways to increase the response rate for surveys that are sent out. One idea that was raised was to ask people to take the survey at Chamber events.
Martha Boden with SPCA Tampa Bay updated everyone on the main points that were discussed at the Public Policy Council’s June 25 Meeting.
Paul Carder shared that the Marketing Committee has completed the Chamber’s visual identity change and is working on creating a more permanent and sustaining intern program within the marketing department. He also suggested that developing a D&I recruiting plan could help the D&I Advisory Board accomplish its goals.
The next D&I Advisory Board meeting will take place on August 23.
City Council Member Ed Montanari with the City kicked off the meeting with an update about a policy issue that was at the top of everyone’s mind – the St. Petersburg sewage crisis and the consent order intended to address it. The legally binding, 15-page agreement requires the City to spend $326m to improve the sewage system and stipulates sliding-scale penalties of $500-$10k per day for further discharges. To comply with the agreement, the City must continue to address capacity issues, build injection wells, develop a wastewater- and stormwater-treatment master plan and spend $14m per year on manhole and collection system rehabilitation. The agreement also requires the City to line or replace deteriorated private laterals within the next four years.
There are concerns among some City Council members about the lack of a financing plan to accompany the consent order. The City will likely fund the required investments in the city’s sewage system with a combination of Penny for Pinellas funds and utility-rate increases. While the rate increases have yet to be finalized (a detailed rate study is being conducted), they are expected to be approximately 4% for water, 11% for reclaimed water, 17% for wastewater and 15% for stormwater.
The Public Policy Council also discussed the land development regulations (LDRs) that were recently passed. The original proposal was for a city-wide, residential floor area ratio (FAR) requirement of 0.5 with bonuses allowing for the construction of homes with a FAR of up to 0.7. Yet most of the constituents voicing strong support for FAR requirements were coming from traditional neighborhoods rather than from suburban areas, so City Council decided to approve an alternative piece of legislation that applies only to traditional neighborhoods. The approved legislation stipulates a more restrictive baseline FAR requirement of 0.4 (with bonuses allowing for a FAR of up to 0.6) for homes constructed in these areas.
Jillian Bandes with Bandes Construction raised a concern that the FAR requirements put in place could unintentionally reduce housing availability by preventing the rehabilitation of select properties in neighborhoods that are affected by the legislation. As the discussion closed, Montanari shared that he thinks the City ended up in a good place with this piece of legislation, as it will help protect the atmosphere of historical neighborhoods while being minimally burdensome.
Travis Norton with the Chamber provided a update that Jewel White will replace Jim Bennett as the Pinellas County Attorney.
Kyle Parks with B2 Communications presented on a November referendum to approve the construction of a one-story, privately-funded parking garage adjacent to The Vinoy Renaissance Resort. The referendum is necessary due to deed restrictions that were put in place in 1984 when the City traded the property to The Vinoy in a land swap deal. The project would raise the existing tennis courts to the top of the newly-constructed parking garage, and the referendum’s narrowly-focused language is intended to make it clear to the public what they are voting for. A motion for the Public Policy Committee to support the referendum was approved, with no one in opposition.
Sharon Wright with the City shared that City Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the possibility of regulating plastic bag use in St. Petersburg. While a bill that would allow cities to establish pilot programs to regulate or ban disposable plastic bags died, Coral Gables’ ban on Styrofoam was upheld in February, a state-level preemptive ban notwithstanding. The case is currently on appeal and will likely take as long as eight months to be terminated, but it opens the door for cities like St. Petersburg to take similar measures to reduce their use of disposable plastics. Policy options include bans and incentives, and various ways to implement the alternatives are also under consideration.
Martha Boden with SPCA Tampa Bay reported that several measures to improve transportation in St. Petersburg are underway. Complete Streets is developing preliminary recommendations for how to improve safety and support multiple transportation modalities more effectively. Additionally, the downtown Circulator’s route is being revised. It has been decided that the charging station will be on 6th Avenue, but the final location has yet to be determined.
Phil Clark with Raymond James shared that the details for Popcorn, Pints and Politics are being finalized. The Chamber is still looking for organizations that would be interested in sponsoring the event.
City Council Member Ed Montanari shared about and expressed his support for a ballot initiative that would ammend the City’s charter to enable council members to hire much-needed legislative aides. If passed, the legislation would authorize council members to direct other city employees, which is currently not allowed.
Travis Norton with the Chamber shared that the City is moving forward with modifying St. Petersburg’s noise ordinance to include decibel requirements.
Brandi Gabbard with Smith & Associates shared that a flood-insurance bill that will save grandfathering and new construction will go to the House floor in the upcoming week. The bill, if passed, will protect many St. Petersburg residents from insurance-fee increases of up to $200 and consolidate seven flood-insurance bills into one package (it has a five-year renewal period). A concern was raised that new mapping technology could lead to more areas of St. Petersburg property being classified as flood zones for insurance purposes. In response, Gabbard shared that this is unlikely to be an issue as the bill allows for the use of local mapping.
Ronnell Montgomery with the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center shared that the Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board has been developing a strategic plan for 2017. As a part of this process, the advisory board is gathering specific numbers on diversity within the Chamber to see how it compares with the diversity of local businesses. Chamber members can expect to receive communications and a survey soon.
Bob Warchola with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP noted that the Chamber’s advocacy efforts have been very successful in 2017. A mid-year update on the Chamber’s advocacy work in 2017 will soon be released.
The next Public Policy Council meeting will take place on August 22 at 7:30 a.m.
Beginning with a warm introduction from Dr. Tashika Griffith, Associate Provost at SPC Midtown where the event was hosted, the Chamber’s sixth coffee chat of the year was with Police Chief Holloway. Sponsored by Tucker/Hall, Coffee Chats offer an opportunity for Chamber members and elected officials to have an informal conversation at member business locations.
The St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) has had a fantastic year with crime at the lowest it has been in the past 16 years. Anticipating a move into its new building by February of 2019, the organization has a full roster of officers that has enabled it to close recruiting for the first time in recent history. It is to be noted that connecting with citizens over coffee is nothing new for Chief Holloway—SPPD hosts two “Coffee with a Cop” events each month.
In an effort to reduce auto theft, a state-wide epidemic, SPPD has instituted what it calls the “Second Chance Program”. This program offers every child that commits a crime an opportunity to avoid getting a criminal record by doing several hours of community service and developing a plan with a social worker to avoid reoffending. The program has been immensely successful, with 90% of participants not reoffending.
When asked about the importance of diversity at the police department, Chief Holloway shared that with a staff that looks like community it serves, SPPD has surpassed its diversity goals. He also remarked that “everyone should be able to work everywhere,” elaborating that he is committed to creating an environment where any officer can patrol any part of the city. SPPD promotes inclusivity by, among other things, conducting diversity training and encouraging officers to connect with members of the communities they serve.
When asked what protocols SPPD has in place to prevent events like those that took place in Ferguson from happening, Chief Holloway shared that young officers are required to go through ongoing training—including simulator training—and that the SPPD’s policies are designed to ensure all people are treated with respect. An example of one of these policies is that when people ask for a Sergeant, officers are required to call for one.
To combat petty crimes that take place with increased frequency when school is out, SPPD has hired seven civilian crime analysts that help the organization allocate its resources with great efficiency. Emphasizing the key role that civilian reporting plays in reducing these crimes, Chief Holloway encouraged those in attendance to call the police department if they see anything suspicious. (Anonymous tips can also be submitted here online.)
Chief Holloway had a positive—yet mildly cautious—view on body cameras. Pointing out that the camera is pointed away from the officer and at the other person, he shared that the cameras typically make the other person look bad. However, they must be implemented with care. Many body cameras, instead of being activated when an officer’s weapon is drawn, require officers to manually activate them by touching their chest. This can potentially cast a shadow over officers that forget to activate them in the heat of the moment – even if they did not have anything to hide. (Like dashboard cameras, body cameras cannot run 24/7.) Additionally, the station is currently required by law to give body-camera footage to whoever asks for it. This can be especially problematic when domestic disputes or the inside of people’s homes are recorded.
When asked about St. Petersburg’s noise ordinance, Chief Holloway shared that that the SPPD does enforce it. Generally, officers focus on responding to complaints rather than actively looking for noise violations. This approach enables SPPD to focus on its highest-priority issues.
With some businesses repeatedly showing themselves willing to accept the current noise-violation fine of $200, SPPD has been working with City Council to change St. Petersburg’s noise ordinance. The new ordinance will likely include provisions that could bar multiple offenders from operating at night for up to one year by revoking their extended-permitting privileges. Additionally, it will likely enable officers to issue citations to the owner of the establishment instead of the manager currently on duty, as is currently required. SPPD is also considering shifting noise-ordinance enforcement to civilians. This step could reduce average response time from 30 minutes to as little as five minutes and free officers to focus on higher-priority issues.
When asked how he personally handles local-election events, Chief Holloway shared that he just does his job. He concluded, “As long as my officers come home every night and community members come home every night, I’m fine with that.”
Chamber members met with the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) to discuss the enforcement of St. Petersburg’s noise ordinances. The meeting revealed that, contrary to recent claims, citations for noise violations have been issued. Some of the confusion about citations may stem from the citation issuance process; rather than being issued to the violating business, citations are issued to highest-level employee that is present at the business when the violation occurs.
SPPD is reluctant to utilize decibel meters. One consideration relevant to the adoption of these devices is that the credibility of decibel-meter readings in court relies in part on whether the equipment operator is a noise expert, as decibel readings can be affected by wind speed and direction, humidity and equipment calibration.
Addressing noise complaints is time consuming for SPPD because addressing one complaint requires two officers. Additionally, many complaints are unable to be pressed legally when complainants prove unwilling to open their homes to officers. Fortunately, SPPD has been successful in resolving noise issues without issuing citations by developing effective working relationships with venue operators. This approach enables officers to focus more on higher-priority issues such as violence, drunk driving and the use of illicit drugs.
SPPD is proposing to City Council that the best next step toward more efficient and effective enforcement of noise ordinances would be to create a civilian noise patrol. This course of action would have dual benefits of freeing up resources for other law-enforcement issues and providing public access to specialized telephone operators who could educate callers on noise issues.
The Chamber’s Public Policy Council met this morning, discussing issues spanning city, county, regional, state and federal governments that are relevant to the St. Petersburg community.
Transportation Chair Martha Boden with SPCA Tampa Bay kicked off the meeting, updating everyone about a meeting that Chamber members recently had with PSTA. The group advocated for the tourist perspective on the Downtown Circulator’s route, suggesting that it should include stops at the Dali Museum and the Chamber.
Chris Ballestra with the City shared that a groundbreaking for the approved $66 million Pier project that includes a 2,500-square-foot environmental education building and several spaces for restaurants will take place on June 28 at 9 a.m.
Claude Tankersley with the City commended his colleagues at City Council for their success in constructing several injection wells for $3 million each in seven months (the wells typically cost approximately $5 million each and take between 18 and 36 months to build). While City Council “took a lot of risks” to execute the plan, all involved—legal, purchasing, consultants, contractors and the State—worked together to do things “a little bit differently.”
Elizabeth Abernathy with the City shared that a zoning ordinance that stipulates floor area ratio (FAR) requirements is scheduled to go to City Council on July 13 for its first hearing. Research on recent home-building activity in St. Petersburg has shown that only 17% of recently-built homes would have surpassed the proposed FAR requirements and required one of the nine design bonuses included in the ordinance to have been built.
Public Policy Chair Bob Warchola with Schumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP shared that a meeting with the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) revealed that, contrary to recent claims, citations for noise violations have been issued and that officers routinely resolve noise-violation issues without issuing a citation. Some of the confusion about citations may stem from the citation issuance process; rather than being issued to the violating business, citations are issued to highest-level employee that is present at the business when the violation occurs. Additionally, the SPPD does not want to utilize noise-level measurement devices and is proposing that a civilian noise patrol be created.
PAC Chair Phil Clark with Raymond James shared that the Chamber’s PAC is finalizing a questionnaire that will be sent to mayoral candidates for the upcoming election and is also looking at hosting events to educate community members on Penny for Pinellas. All Chamber members are encouraged to support these initiatives by joining the PAC.
Transportation Chair Martha Boden shared that last week’s presentation on Tampa Bay Next came across as somewhat myopic as St. Petersburg was not on the map of projects that was presented. Additionally, the Pinellas County Community Working Group for Tampa Bay Next will meet on July 13 at 5:30 p.m., and all interested are encouraged to attend.
Chamber Advocacy Manager Travis Norton shared that a $1.2 million request for the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a $400 thousand request for Tec Garage and a $1 million request for the Tampa Bay Center for Innovation were vetoed.
Brandi Gabbard with Smith & Associates shared that seven flood-insurance bills were passed last Wednesday, and while most of them are “great pieces,” the passage of the 21st Century Flood Reform Act is disappointing. One issue with the piece of legislation is that it phases out grandfathering.
D&I Chair Ronnell Montgomery with the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center shared that members of the Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board have attended some great events and that the Advisory Board plans to transition incrementally from an internal focus to a community-wide focus.
Chair Janet Hall with Destination Better shared that the Sustainability Committee hosted a successful Lunch and Learn last week that educated attendees on what internships are and why they are valuable.
Finally, Art O’Hara with R’Club shared that R’Club Child Care has been licensed to complete a $600 thousand renovation, moving the Happy Workers Center to the renovated R'Club. This will expand capacity to serve 142 children from age 8 weeks to age VPK.
The Public Policy Council meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 7:30 a.m.
How might we enable our community to grow smarter through robust workforce development? How might we strengthen the capacity of our organizations to attract and retain talent? How might we expand students’ access to hands-on learning experiences that supplement what they learn in the classroom?
Internships—if done well—can fulfill all three of these aspirations. On June 22, Grow Smarter held a workshop for local business leaders to learn about the value of internships and what can be done to make them successful.
Janet Hall, Founding Partner of Destination Better, opened the workshop by outlining how there is a significant opportunity to develop and retain talent through internships. She was followed by Chris Steinocher, President and CEO of the Chamber, who explained that coordinated education and training is one of the six primary themes found in the Grow Smarter Plan because it plays an essential role helping our city achieve inclusive prosperity. Further highlighting the Chamber’s commitment to promoting internships, Tom Lally shared that the Chamber’s Sustainability Committee formed an Internship Working Group “to develop a sustainable program that creates a streamlined process and links local university and college students with intern positions at Chamber member businesses.”
Several keys to successful internships were shared. Amanda Peters, Employer Relations Coordinator at USFSP, shared that it is important for organizations to ensure interns have specific learning objectives, tactical goals and a clear understanding of how their work connects to departmental and organization-level goals. Melena Postolowski, Director of Internships and Employer Relations at Eckerd College, emphasized that organizations should complete signed agreements, provide knowledgeable mentors and create regular feedback loops. Official guidance from NACE on the responsibilities of host organizations can be found here. Jacob Wortock, Employment and Internship Coordinator at St. Petersburg College, explained that organizations can help interns grow by focusing on interns’ strengths and career goals, keeping them busy and directed toward learning objectives and providing opportunities for increasing responsibility.
Providing a host-side perspective, Tarah Harkins, Director of Campus Recruiting and Pipeline Development at Raymond James, shared that the company’s internship program consists of five main components: development opportunities, team building, corporate citizenship (i.e., philanthropy), relevant tasks and talent pipeline strategy. She went on to recommend that at least 70% of entry-level hires come from a company’s internship program. Alicia Branon, Recruitment Program Manager at Southwest Florida Water Management District, advocated for providing interns with a variety of experiences, citing her organization’s experience that providing “both in-the-field and in-the-office trainings” has enabled their interns to develop a stronger understanding of their organization. Ryan McNulty, Talent Acquisition Partner at Tech Data, emphasized the importance of teamwork, sharing that “our main goal for them is to make sure they collaborate.” Finally, all three panelists agreed that actively engaging in campus recruiting can help organizations build a strong campus brand, enlarge their applicant pool and attract the best talent possible.
Well-designed internships can create tremendous value for the community, for host organizations and for students alike. How might you make a difference by taking one step to strengthen your organization’s internship program or create one if it does not yet exist?
Sipping local Carrabaa’s coffee, the twenty-five Chamber members at this morning’s Coffee Chat were encouraged to hear City Council chair Darden Rice attest, “Our city is on the rise—our city is on fire.” Sponsored by Tucker/Hall, Coffee Chats offer an opportunity for Chamber members and elected officials to have an informal conversation at member business locations.
Shaped primarily by attendees’ questions, the conversation with Rice touched on climate change, transportation, sewage infrastructure and development. After being elected to Council chair, Rice created the Energy, Natural Resources and Sustainability Committee (ENRS) which has helped the city become more resilient through measures such as ensuring homes are built high enough and increasing students’ access to low-interest loans for roof and air-conditioning repairs. A self-proclaimed “transportation geek,” Rice spoke about how many transportation solutions have significant environmental benefits. Additionally, Rice shared about how the city has begun to respond to how technology is revolutionizing mobility by partnering with Uber to provide first-mile and last-mile transportation services.
In regards to sewage infrastructure, Rice explained that the city’s new master plan ensures that investment in the city’s sewage system is adequate and that the system is maintained regularly. In response to a question about whether she views funding for community redevelopment areas (CRAs) as a priority, Rice pointed out that the city is starting to see success from a twenty-year public agreement and that downtown was not always as great as it is today. Additionally, Rice touched on how the Pier helps to create an equitable community by serving as a place where everybody can go. With an unwavering commitment to sustainable, inclusive development, Rice concluded by sharing that “sustainability isn’t just about putting up shiny green buildings. It’s about creating a city that works for everybody.”
The St. Petersburg Chamber’s first Coffee Chat of 2017 presented by Tucker/Hall kicked off with Senator Jack Latvala, who drew the largest attendance at a Coffee Chat.
The USFSP Kate Tiedemann College of Business hosted the January coffee chat in the Lynn Pippenger Hall, where the Dean of the USFSP College of Business, Sridhar Sundaram spoke about the recent grand opening of the USFSP College of Business and about the active learning spaces that allow students to interface with state-of-the-art technology and promote collaborative learning. The USFSP College of Business offers signature learning spaces that include the Wealth Management Center (Finance), Consumer Insight Lab (Marketing) and Active Learning Lab (Entrepreneurship).
Keith Rupp spoke on behalf of the 2017 Coffee Chat sponsor, Tucker/Hall. For more than 25 years, businesses, individuals and organizations of all kinds have turned to Tucker/Hall to help them grow their business, manage a crisis situation, or advance a particular agenda. Over the years, the firm has grown to become one of the leading public relations and public affairs firms in Florida and the Southeast.
Sen. Jack Latvala was the perfect speaker for the perfect location. The USFSP Kate Tiedemann College of Business just had the grand opening of Lynn Peppinger Hall, which Sen. Latvala was instrumental in securing $25M from the State of Florida for the construction of the USFSP College of Business. The Florida State Senate’s Appropriations Chair, Sen. Latvala spoke about being seen as “Santa Claus” for groups seeking state money, since he will control the purse strings in the Florida Senate's budget.
The Senator remarked that last year, the House of Representatives diminished Enterprise Florida funding, causing the film industry to be destroyed, losing jobs and revenue; Visit Florida is being threatened with cutting back significantly on funding for advertising which could dramatically affect tourism; keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg; supporting conservation and finding leadership that is committed to the environment and wilderness.
As Chair of Appropriations, Senator Latvala listed some priorities for funding which include Educational (St. Petersburg College); Transportation (supports consolidation of bus system and supports mass transportation); Social Services needs; and working on solutions to the storm water issue.
Concluding the Coffee Chat, Senator Latvala stated that Pinellas County has not had leadership in Tallahassee that fought for the County, adding he wants to do what he can to make it better for his community.
Please join us at our next Coffee Chat with County Commissioner Janet Long on Thursday, February 23, 2017.