TAMPA — If you’re voting in the March 5 Tampa elections, most of the decisions you will be asked to make will not involve electing a person.
Instead, you’ll be asked 18 times, in 18 different ways, whether you’d like to update a document. Specifically, the Tampa City Charter.
Since it was adopted in 1975, the Charter has gone without a substantial update. So in 2017, the city called together a Charter review commission of nine citizens to offer recommended tweaks. The commission passed along its suggestions to the City Council last year. The council and Mayor Bob Buckhorn approved them to appear on this year’s ballot.
The amendments haven’t come with much controversy. Buckhorn spokeswoman Ashley Bauman called them “minor tweaks.”
Hillsborough Republican Party Chairman Jim Waurishuk, however, said the Charter amendments are little more than a way for Tampa city council members to avoid responsibility to voters. The County Republican Party is urging voters to vote “No” on all of them.
Support them or no, you should know what they are. Here’s the 18 Tampa City Charter amendments, explained.
The Tampa City Charter was written with gendered language. The mayor and all members of the City Council were referred to with “he” pronouns. This amendment would update that and other instances of outdated language such as references to bygone state laws.
This amendment would update how the boundaries of city council districts four through seven are drawn. It would require the Hillsborough County City County Planning Commission to use census figures from the year previous to an election to determine the population of the districts.
City council members, who are not full-time city employees, would be granted one full-time legislative aide under this amendment. Amendment 3 also allows the city council to hire extra aides under certain conditions.
Under current Charter law, aides are subject to the mayor’s approval — a fact which has caused some controversy. In 2014, Buckhorn forbade Councilman Mike Suarez from allowing a city aide to move into a part-time role to work on a political campaign.
Another updating amendment. Under Amendment 4, the city would have to post any new proposed ordinance on its website at least a week before they’re approved before the city council.
Do you know what the city clerk does? This amendment would make the clerk the city’s chief historian.
Some employees who want to file a grievance against the city can appeal to Tampa’s Civil Service Board. This amendment clarifies which employees have that right. (Certain supervisors, for example, do not.)
Another clarifying amendment. The Charter currently says that the mayor’s “absence” from Tampa could give the chair of the city council the right to act as mayor. This amendment strips that language and clarifies the conditions that allow the council chair to act as mayor.
This amendment gives the power to the mayor and city council, by a two-thirds vote, to appoint, tweak or dissolve certain city departments or boards. Some major departments, like police, are exempt.
The mayor gets to choose what city offices do, according to this amendment, as long as the mayor’s decisions are approved by the city council.
Heads of city departments have to live within city limits under Amendment 10. If they live outside the city when they’re appointed, they have one year to move — and can apply for an extension under certain conditions.
This issue has also come up in the past: Tampa CFO Sonya Little’s address gave rise to a minor controversy in early 2018.
The Charter currently allows the mayor 30 days to fill vacancies at the top of certain departments. Under Amendment 11, the mayor would have 90 days.
The city can be flexible with certain funds as long as it obeys the original permitting document under Amendment 12. For example, as Lynn Hurtak, a member of the charter review commission, explains in an informative Twitter thread about the amendments: “the city can't take new sewer infrastructure dollars for transit, but it could use it for drainage in areas that take on standing water.”
Right now, the city can only invest certain in low-risk, low-reward things like U.S. Treasury bonds. This Amendment gives the city broader authority to invest, as long as state law allows it.
How do certain obscure city boards, like the one the oversees the city employee retirement fund, get created? This amendment lays out the process: Standing boards, which are permanent, are formed by ordinance. Ad hoc committees — for instance, the Charter review commission — are formed or approved by the mayor. They’re not permanent.
The elections process in Tampa was somewhat unclear in the eyes of the revision board. This amendment clarifies it: dates, election requirements, etc. would all be spelled out in the Charter.
The city’s anti-discrimination policy currently includes protections for people based on “race, sex, age or national origin.” This amendment would expand that to include “sexual orientation, color, pregnancy, age, marital status, familial status, disability, gender identification, genetic information, ethnicity” or anything else illegal under city statute or state or federal law.
This amendment mandates a Charter review every decade, so, as Hurtak wrote, “we don't end up with 18 amendments to vote on again in another 44+ years.”
Want to propose a new amendment to the city charter? Amendment 18 lays out how: either push for a city council ordinance or get a petition signed by 10 percent of the participants in the most recent city election.
Contact Kirby Wilson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbwtweets.