BY: Equity Subcommittee of the 2021 Charter Review Commission
This op ed was submitted to the Tampa Bay Times on October 25, 2021 and was shared by copy to the members of the Black Media Alliance.
What is needed to become a competitive and resilient city? Eliminating equity gaps. That is the conclusion of the UNITE Pinellas Equity Profile which conducted an analysis of a variety of factors in Pinellas County and found that the Pinellas economy would grow by $3.6 Billion if equity gaps were closed. The Tampa Bay Partnership reached the same conclusion in its equity analysis, finding that the regions’ economy would increase by $50 Billion if the equity gaps were eliminated.
Study after study finds large gaps in outcomes in housing, poverty, life expectancy, wages, maternal death, education, access to food, and many other areas, based on immutable characteristics. Immutable characteristics are those that are innate and unchangeable such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.
Over the years, Tampa Bay Times readers have encountered numerous articles concerning the egregious differences in resources and opportunities afforded to white people and people of color — nationwide, statewide, and locally. Given the Times’ willingness to routinely publish those articles, it is difficult to understand why the Editorial Board would recommend against taking sustained action to address these equity gaps and recommended that voters reject St. Petersburg Charter Amendments.
Data led this Charter Review Commission to review the Charter through a lens of equity. The Commission established an equity subcommittee to help focus this review. The equity subcommittee conducted research and looked across the country at how other cities were eliminating equity gaps. The subcommittee reviewed local data related to equity outcomes and scholarly publications to identify what it takes to improve these outcomes. We found that it takes a sustained intentional focus. It became clear that St. Petersburg must urgently address these equity issues to be competitive and resilient.
For decades, many engaged citizens worked to influence various elected mayors and city council members to close these equity gaps, yet the data remains unchanged. The beauty of St. Petersburg’s Charter is that every ten years it requires its citizens to review the Charter and propose amendments on which only the City’s voters can decide. There is no need for elected officials to approve proposed amendments. The proposed amendments go directly to the voters. It allows for St. Petersburg citizens to define what is essential to the well-being and future of the City. For example, the previous 2011 Charter Commission proposed, and the voters approved, an amendment that required extra protections to the City’s waterfront properties. This decade, equity is essential to the well-being and future of the City.
Seven Charter amendments are on your ballot for the November 2nd election. These amendments are designed to intentionally address these persistent equity gaps. Amendment 3 establishes an equity framework and action plan and creates a position of Chief Equity Officer to oversee the City’s work to eliminate these equity gaps. Amendment 4 establishes a protected equity fund to pay for equity-related initiatives. These amendments are necessary for a more resilient and competitive St. Petersburg future.
The time has come to require the City to focus on these issues with intentionality, analysis, data, and planning. Our future depends on eliminating these gaps. Other cities have figured out solutions and so can we. It is up to the voters to amend the Charter to require solutions. We cannot keep waiting for whomever is elected to decide whether this is important, and we cannot have a piecemeal approach, dependent upon who is elected, to eliminate these equity gaps. Eliminating these gaps requires sustained intentionality. The Charter is the vehicle to obtain this. Vote YES on the Charter amendments.