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Tampa City Council moves forward with proposed charter changes

TAMPA — When Tampa voters go to the polls in November, they may be asked to decide on a handful of city charter amendments along with making picks for president and state and local races.

The City Council on Thursday agreed to move forward with charter changes that would broaden its powers, including giving the council sole authority to hire and fire the council's attorney. That power is now shared with the city attorney and the mayor.

The council also wants the ability to hire and set salaries of its staff members without approval of the mayor.

Council members Charlie Miranda, Joseph Caetano and Gwen Miller voted against cutting the mayor out of decisions related to the City Council staff.

"We're creating two executive branches," Miranda said before the vote. "I'm satisfied with the way this government is working."

The council also agreed to move forward with other minor charter changes.

One would give the city's existing Ethics Commission staying power by including it in the charter. Another would correct the names of community boards. A third would make the charter non-gender-specific.

The board responded coolly to member John Dingfelder's proposal to amend the charter to limit campaign contributions to candidates for City Council and mayor.

Dingfelder met Wednesday night with about two dozen community leaders who embraced the idea and his plan to bring it before the council.

"I have a real issue with all of this," said council member Tom Scott, who noted such limits tend to favor incumbents who have the benefit of visibility and name recognition.

"Let's keep an open mind," Dingfelder said. "All they want is to put it on the ballot and let the people decide."

The council is scheduled to discuss the campaign finance issue in depth March 20.

Putting amendments on the ballot requires one public hearing and council approval in two separate votes. Passing the amendments requires voter approval of 50 percent plus one.

The council also voted Thursday to hire its own budget analyst. Members said they need an expert independent of the administration to help them dissect budgets presented by the mayor.

"In past years, the mayor took charge and sent a budget over, and it was rubber-stamped," Dingfelder said. "Times have changed."

Council members Miranda and Miller voted against the proposal, saying it's wrong to spend money on a new hire when declining property tax revenues have led to layoffs.

"If we're going to spend money, let's spend money keeping people in their jobs," Miller said, noting that she gets all the help she needs from the administration's budget staff.

Council member Mary Mulhern argued that investing in a budget analyst should ultimately save the city money.

"This will pay for itself over and over and over again," she said. Mulhern said it's not possible for the City Council to make competent budget decisions without outside help.

It was not clear Thursday whether the budget analyst would be a full-time, part-time or contract position and how much the person would be paid. The council is scheduled to discuss specifics at a future meeting.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa City Council moves forward with proposed charter changes 02/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, February 28, 2008 11:57pm]
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