Questions focus on parks, police at Buckhorn's town hall meeting in East Tampa
Questions about parks and police dominated Mayor Bob Buckhorn's town hall meeting -- the first of his administration -- in East Tampa Thursday night.
Buckhorn went to the Ragan Park Community Center at the invitation of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association, but he didn't go alone.
The mayor brought a lot of City Hall brass, including Police Chief Jane Castor, Fire Chief Thomas Forward, chief of staff Santiago Corrada, chief financial officer Sonya Little, public works administrator Steve Daignault, parks and recreation director Karen Palus, code enforcement director Jake Slater, water department director Brad Baird, solid waste director Tonja Brickhouse, public works director Irvin Lee, purchasing director Gregory Spearman, neighborhood and community relations director Shannon Edge, East Tampa community redevelopment manager Ed Johnson and police Major Gerald Honeywell.
During a question-and-answer session that lasted nearly two hours, Buckhorn got about 15 questions about the city's parks department, including what are his plans to fix unspecified problems, whether it can offer more programs for teenagers and why some facilities don't have more staffing.
Buckhorn said he plans in over the next five years to steer community investment tax revenues to a variety of neighborhood improvement projects, including park improvements, and said he recognizes that value of recreation programs for young people. Next to police and fire, parks and recreation may account for the largest personnel cost the city has. He said it's important that young people have good parks and recreation programs so they don't end up hanging around on street corners and getting into trouble.
"To me, that's not an acceptable tradeoff," Buckhorn told the crowd of more than 100. "You have that commitment from me that we wil do the best that we can within our resources to make sure that our park system is alive and it's well and it's vibrant and it's engaged. But we do have economic restraints."
Palus said parks and recreation employees have worked hard to keep facilities open and said they would be responsive.
"If there’s a specific request or anything that needs to be handled we’re happy to sit down with individuals directly and make sure we’re accommodating that," she said.
Police-related questions included whether the city's 60 percent decline in crime has come through the use of racial profiling, illegal searches and at the expense of black youth.
Castor responded that Tampa's police are among the best in the nation, and that's because the department is picky in its hiring -- going through about 100 applications for every officer hired -- and expects them to act professionally.
"When we make a mistake in our department, we stand up and admit that," she said. "Our officers also understand that we have very high standards and that everybody is to be treated with a level of respect regardless of their position in society, in our community, in life in general."
Buckhorn said he had been around long enough to remember when police relations with the community were not as good.
"It’s come a mighty long way, but it’s a daily process, he said. "It is a day to day, relationship by relationship, neighborhood by neighborhood, officer by citizen process. We can’t ever stop doing that."
While the meeting was Buckhorn's first town hall gathering since becoming mayor, he said it won't be his last.
"We're going to make a practice of this, because I believe in taking City Hall out to the community," he said. As a City Council member, he would occasionally load a desk on the back of a truck and set it up on someone's front yard to meet with constituents. "I just have a bigger desk now."