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Father of parking fiasco is laid off

Former traffic and transportation director Angelo Rao, who championed the pay parking stations that confounded motorists, has been laid off as part of a plan to adjust the city's budget for a recession.

Rao is one of just three people whom city executives have let go to help save $1.53-million expected to be lost because of declining revenue from sales and tourist taxes, as well as higher costs forinsurance.

"Some of the necessary expenditure reduction will be accomplished by cutting back on such line items as training, travel and capital equipment acquisitions, while in other cases the necessary savings will be achieved by leaving currently vacant positions open for an extended period," Mayor Rick Baker wrote in a memo to the City Council.

The other two jobs that were cut were a temporary employee relations slot and a graphic design post in Development Services. The designer has the right to take another city vacancy, said Fiscal Services administrator Andy Houston.

Most of the cuts will not be noticeable to the public, he added.

Two cuts that people might notice are that the city will spend less on temporary lawn crews for city parks this summer, and it will shorten its children's play camp from 10 to eight weeks without lowering the fee.

Rao was at the center of the one decision former Mayor David Fischer has said he would take back if he could.

At Rao's behest, the city bought 225 French-made Schlumberger pay stations in 1997, thinking the government could cash in by charging up to $10 a space for street parking during Tampa Bay Devil Rays games.

The crowds were lighter than expected, and people couldn't figure out how to use what essentially was an overgrown parking meter designed to serve several spaces. Motorists had to walk as far as a block and had difficulty using the meters.

Rao also pushed for so-called neighborhood traffic calming measures _ speed bumps, raised intersections and other vehicle slowing devices _ which also proved controversial.

Just before leaving office, Fischer stripped Rao of the bulk of the responsibility he once held in the city as transportation and parking services director. Rao became an assistant department director under city engineer Mike Connors, and Rao's old duties were parceled out to other managers.

Rao, who declined to speak with a reporter Friday, earns an annual salary of $88,325, according to his personnel file.

First Deputy Mayor Tish Elston said Rao's history with controversial issues in the city did not factor into his dismissal.

"The real thing that's driving it is (asking) where do we have positions where we have other people who can pick up the slack," she said. "In Angelo's position, we have another person who is really doing the traffic calming stuff in engineering. It's awkward because Angelo is a great guy."

The pay stations cost the city $1.56-million, enough to cover the round of budget cuts that included Rao's job.

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