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Julia Mandell named acting Tampa city attorney

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn named senior assistant city attorney Julia Mandell acting city attorney on Tuesday, City Attorney Jim Shimberg's last day on the job.

"I think she'll do a great job on the interim basis," Buckhorn said.

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Mandell, 43, has been at City Hall nearly nine years and said she was excited to have the chance to serve the city in the new role. As a senior assistant city attorney, her assignments include handling issues related to land use, real estate, the First Amendment, signs, transportation and historic preservation. She also manages five attorneys in the land use section of the office.

Before coming to the city in 2004, Mandell worked as an assistant county attorney for Hillsborough County for about seven years. She received her bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Florida and is board certified in city, county and local government law.

Shimberg said he is "very confident that she will do an outstanding job as acting city attorney for however long Mayor Buckhorn decides to keep her in that position."

Buckhorn said he has not made a decision "but probably will soon " on a permanent replacement for Shimberg, who is leaving City Hall to become executive vice president and general counsel for the parent company of the Tampa Bay Lighting.

"It's just one of those things that's a tougher decision than most because it's such a personal decision," the mayor said. He said he has talked to one candidate for the job, though he wouldn't say who.

"For me, it's more about my gut," Buckhorn said. He got to know Shimberg in the 1980s when the two worked on the campaign of then-County Commission candidate Pam Iorio. As a result, Shimberg has served Buckhorn not only with his expertise in real estate, land use and government comprehensive planning, but as someone Buckhorn says he trusts "implicitly" — as much consigliere as legal advisor.

"I don't know that I'd ever be able to replicate it, just because of that 25-year friendship," Buckhorn said. "But I'd like to get as close to that as I possibly can. For me, that comfort level is important in that job, more so than perhaps any other job here."

As for a permanent replacement, Buckhorn said, "I think I probably will wind up going external."

Buckhorn won't say who he is considering for the job, but here are names (in alphabetical order) of a few attorneys who are the subject of speculation — along with Mandell — by others at City Hall, by private attorneys around Tampa or by the weekly newspaper La Gaceta:

- Ben Diamond, a lawyer in the Tampa office of Akerman Senterfitt who served as general counsel to Alex Sink when she was Florida's chief financial officer. His areas of practice include business disputes, financial institutions commercial litigation, government agency litigation, insurance regulation, land use and real estate litigation.

- Thomas Gonzalez, a partner in the Tampa firm of Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing, which specializes in management-side labor and employment law. A Tampa native, Gonzalez has represented cities and government agencies all over the Tampa Bay area on matters related to labor law. He also has served as the Hillsborough County School Board's attorney, but said in January he plans to leave that position. In the mid-1990s, he briefly served as Tampa's city attorney.

- Richard Harrison, the attorney for Tampa Bay Water who also has represented the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority and Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. His Tampa-based firm has advised local governments, agencies and officials on bid protests and disputes, rulemaking and challenges, property acquisition (including eminent domain), taxation, election laws, ethics, public records and the Sunshine Law.

- Jim Porter, a partner in the Tampa office of Adams and Reese who was one of two finalists when the Hillsborough County Commission picked a new county attorney last fall. (The job went to Chip Fletcher, a Tampa city attorney for Iorio when she was mayor.) Porter was with the county attorney's office from 1990 to 2004 and served as chief assistant county attorney for land use. His practice focuses on zoning, land use and governmental relations including contracts and procurement.

- Andrea Zelman, a shareholder in the Tampa office of Fowler White Boggs. A former Tampa assistant city attorney, her primary areas of expertise are in land use and environmental law, including zoning, developments of regional impact, comprehensive land use plans, development agreements, annexations, transportation issues and environmental litigation. She also served on Buckhorn's Economic Competitiveness Committee, which studied ways to improve the city's development review operations and change Tampa's reputation as a hard place for builders and developers to do business.