Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Note to feds: We are not Spuds

Can't you just picture those federal operatives on their big stakeout on the bad streets of downtown Tampa?

You can practically hear the camera clicking off surreptitious shots of the damning scene: the shiny black Chevy Suburban sidling into the mayor's parking spot at City Hall. The mayor himself, seen getting out. The sheer brazenness of it all!

Forgive me if I cannot get up a head of steam over a federal audit of how Tampa used $49.9 million in Justice Department security funding for the 2012 Republican National Convention — the quibble over that big black SUV, in particular.

The $31,684 Suburban was one of 47 vehicles bought for RNC security, its purpose being to ferry dignitaries hither and yon during and after the convention. (Seriously, we do get dignitaries here.) You could even call it a nonpartisan ride, since it has been used on visits by Gov. Rick Scott, and is soon to do duty for the arrival of a Syrian notable.

But the auditors took issue with the SUV's post-RNC role as not only a dignitary conveyance, but also Mayor Bob Buckhorn's work vehicle and second office in which he is driven to appointments by a Tampa police officer. The audit had a particular problem with how the mayor sometimes drives himself instead of the driver picking him up at home — not, the audit sniffs, the SUV's intended "criminal justice purpose."

Truly, they did not need to camp outside City Hall to get their photo evidence, since this mayor is not exactly camera-shy. There is no cute child Buckhorn will not pick up, no fire truck, tank or roof he is not willing to climb atop in the name of a photo op. Give this man a river and he will dye it green for St. Patrick's Day. His last city vehicle was another black SUV with rumbling mufflers and spinning rims, seized from a sex trafficker and roundly referred to as the mayor's pimped ride. (Though he did get rid of the rims.)

Mayors before Buckhorn had drivers. Public officials in good-sized cities get cars and sometimes protection. We are not Spuds, Fla. When I call Spuds for comparison, I am disappointed to learn there is no actual mayor of Spuds. But from nearby Hastings, population 640, Mayor Tom Ward reports he drives his own 14-year-old Tahoe with 235,000 miles on it. Hastings, however, has not recently hosted India's version of the Oscars.

St. Petersburg's newly minted mayor, Rick Kriseman, tools himself around in a city-issued white Ford hybrid inherited from his predecessor, Bill Foster. Similarities end there, though, since Kriseman has not been seen zipping to City Hall on that orange scooter with the squeaky horn Foster favored.

Hillsborough County commissioners get a $2,796 yearly car allowance. Big-town jobs have big-town perks.

But the feds do have to watch over those millions doled out, and the audit raises points. Might Tampa have fixed an armored vehicle the city already owned instead of buying another?

Buckhorn says of course the SUV is a police vehicle, with lights, sirens, radios, the works, one he expects the next mayor to use. And when he drives himself from home on nearby Davis Islands, he drops his daughters at school — 15 minutes in the car when it's just them. "Some moments I won't give up," he says. Which makes all of this pretty nit-picky for a town that is definitely not Spuds.

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