TAMPA — One week after rejecting it, the City Council on Thursday voted in favor of a 25-year agreement with Tampa Electric Co. to determine how much the utility has to pay for the privilege of using the city's rights of way for power lines.
The move came after council member Joseph Caetano made a motion to reconsider the matter so he could change his previous vote.
Council members John Dingfelder, Mary Mulhern and Linda Saul-Sena argued hard against the contract and Caetano's push to reopen the matter.
Dingfelder said it was unfair to bring it up without notifying the dozens of people who lobbied against the contract at last week's public hearing and left thinking a decision had been made. He accused Caetano of "making a mockery" of the process.
Council member Charlie Miranda countered that the public obviously knew the contract was going to come up again.
"I got about 40 e-mails on this matter," Miranda said. "The public has not been blindsided."
He pointed out that the public can have its say at a public hearing before the final vote, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 4.
Caetano said he decided to change his vote because the city has already spent $95,000 paying attorneys to negotiate the contract, and rejecting it will only mean spending more money on lawyers, possibly fighting Tampa Electric in court.
For more than three years, Mayor Pam Iorio and officials at Tampa Electric Co. have been negotiating the agreement. The old contract, signed in 1986, expired in 2006.
Opponents of the contract say they want it to require Tampa Electric to make greater commitments to conservation and renewable energy.
"I have 62 e-mails from constituents asking me not to approve this agreement," Mulhern said. She hasn't heard from anyone who supports it, she said.
City Attorney Chip Fletcher told council members that agreements between electric utilities and governments don't typically cover conservation measures, an area regulated by the state.
Dingfelder said he hoped Tampa Electric would volunteer to address those issues when they returned to the negotiating table.
For now, though, negotiating is done.
Gwen Miller, who was absent at last week's meeting, and Tom Scott cast their votes with Miranda and Caetano, giving the contract preliminary approval.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.