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Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder quits to keep county seat hope alive

TAMPA — With his run for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission in jeopardy, John Dingfelder abruptly resigned from the Tampa City Council on Wednesday evening.

"I am no longer on the City Council," Dingfelder said.

Dingfelder said the resignation, which cannot be revoked, was necessary so he could appear on the November ballot as a Democratic candidate for the District 1 commission seat. The district stretches from Town 'N Country, through West and South Tampa, to Apollo Beach.

State election law requires that office holders running for another post submit a letter 10 days before the election qualifying period indicating their intention to resign from their current position. This year, that would have been June 4. The resignation can be effective the day the candidate would take the new office.

But Dingfelder missed the deadline.

He submitted his letter June 15, along with his qualifying papers, saying his resignation would take effect in November.

The Supervisor of Elections Office accepted the letter and on Friday qualified him to run.

But Dingfelder later learned his resignation letter was late.

"It was an oversight on my part. I take responsibility for it," he said.

Dingfelder said he believes he can still appear on the ballot because of a provision in the law that says if the resignation takes effect immediately, he can qualify as a non-office holder.

"I'm going to be on the ballot in November," he said.

Travis Abercrombie, a spokesman for the supervisor of elections, agreed. "He qualified before noon on Friday," Abercrombie said. "We are going to honor his name on the ballot."

Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, a Democrat, is also running for the Hillsborough County Commission. She hopes to fill the at-large District 2 seat.

Abercrombie said she turned in a resignation letter, but did not know late Wednesday what day she had submitted it.

Saul-Sena did not return calls for comment. Her campaign manager, Mitch Kates, said Saul-Sena told him she doesn't recall the date she had turned it in.

Dingfelder will be replaced on the City Council by someone chosen by a majority of the remaining council members. The council will discuss the process for selecting his replacement at its regular meeting today.

In 2006, when City Council members Rose Ferlita and Kevin White resigned to run for the County Commission, more than 50 people applied to fill their posts.

Council Chairman Tom Scott said Dingfelder did the right thing by resigning immediately, calling it "fair and honest."

"I hate to see him leave this early," Scott said. "But I think he's really trying to do what's right. That speaks to integrity."

Dingfelder has no opponent in the August primary. There are two Republicans in the race: Political newcomer Trey Rustmann and former state Rep. Sandy Murman.

"Attention to detail is very important, especially in this job as county commissioner," Murman said. She said it would be up to voters to decide whether such a slip-up speaks to Dingfelder's ability to serve.

"Obviously, when you're talking about tax dollars, having someone pay attention to what the details are, I think, would be very important to them," she said.

Dingfelder, a lawyer, was first elected to the City Council in 2003 and re-elected in 2007. He has been a strong advocate for neighborhoods.

In 2007, after becoming frustrated with waiting for city staff to develop a green building ordinance, Dingfelder took the unusual step of crafting one with the help of a group of architects, builders and others. He also led a fight against a move by Mayor Pam Iorio to privatize janitorial, security and other services.

"I am proud of all we have accomplished for our City," Dingfelder said in a letter to council members. "It has been a pleasure to get to know each of you and has been a privilege to work so closely together. Our mutual respect and friendship will serve the City and County well when I serve as a County Commissioner."

Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder quits to keep county seat hope alive 06/23/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 24, 2010 7:42am]
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