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Official suggests changes to charter

For as long as Tampa has had a strong mayor running City Hall, the City Council has had members who feel left out and frustrated that they don't wield more clout.

Now one of them has begun working on ways to shift that balance of power.

Council member Rudy Fernandez said he hadn't planned to announce anything yet, but Thursday, he mentioned possible changes to the City Charter that he and several private lawyers have begun studying.

Maybe, he said, the charter should require the mayor to come to every City Council meeting. Maybe the mayor should have to appoint a city administrator who would be approved by the council.

In response, Mayor Sandy Freedman said maybe Fernandez should think again _ or think about running for mayor himself.

"I don't know that anybody has determined that it's broken, so I don't know what the tinkering is for," Freedman said.

"No, it's not broken, but I think from time to time the charter needs to be updated, and this is just an attempt to make the city of Tampa run more efficiently," Fernandez said.

Fernandez said the city might be "more efficient, more responsible and more open" by going from a "super-strong mayor form (of government) to a strong mayor form" similar to St. Petersburg's.

Freedman said she found it interesting that two Florida communities, St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach, have changed their ordinances in the past year to move to a stronger mayor form of government.

And in St. Petersburg, Freedman added, city officials have acknowledged that their charter still needs a little more work. For instance, once the St. Petersburg mayor moved off the council, the council was left with eight members and no way of breaking a tie vote.

Freedman said she thinks the existing charter includes a "strong check and balance" for the council and noted that it gives the council "unlimited authority" in planning and zoning matters. She also said council members have the authority to move money around in the budget she submits each August before they adopt it.

While other council members seemed willing to discuss the idea of changing the charter, few seemed enthusiastic about it. Council Chairman Joe Greco, for example, said the council might want to hold some workshops on the subject in a year or so.

In Hillsborough County, a proposal by a citizens panel to rewrite the county charter was left in limbo after the County Commission persuaded a judge to remove the proposal from last November's general election ballot.