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Tampa's new City Council members signal it won't be business as usual

TAMPA — It didn't take long for Tampa's new council members to make an impression Thursday.

At his first meeting representing District 3, John Dingfelder pulled five items off the consent agenda — items considered routine and usually passed in bulk — to highlight his concerns about how the city does business.

He quizzed officials about whether they followed correct procedures when they threw out a bid for a new helicopter camera because the bidder was located in Melbourne.

The bid specified the vendor must be located within 30 nautical miles of Tampa International Airport. The winning company was located in Brooksville, which Dingfelder, using Google, calculated was 36 miles away.

"The public relies on us to put out these bids and go by the book," Dingfelder said, adding he didn't want the city to be sued.

Police Lt. Patrick Messmer pulled out his phone and calculated the nautical miles to the Brooksville airport. It was 30 miles, within the bid specs.

Dingfelder remained skeptical

"I don't know if you're in a position to say that based on your quick glance at that," he told Messmer.

Only when City Attorney Salvatore Territo said Messmer was using the correct calculation did Dingfelder relent on his request that the city delay the $612,623 purchase for two weeks.

Then Dingfelder asked Wastewater Director Eric Weiss why minority subcontractors weren't used to replace concrete in a pumping station. Weiss said the city couldn't find any minority firms that were certified for the specialized work.

"I'll keep asking that question as we proceed on these items over the next four years,'' Dingfelder said.

District 4 Council member Bill Carlson, also at his first meeting, said he heard many concerns about minority contracting while on the campaign trail. Orlando Gudes, the council's only African-American member, encouraged the city to hold more workshops to raise awareness of minority contracts.

"I think it's a challenge in our community. People don't know to know," said Gudes, who represents the city's only minority-majority council district.

In February, the city released data showing minority businesses hold 15 percent of city contracts, with the caveat that qualified minority-owned businesses don't provide every type of municipal service. Only 12 percent — or $122 million — of the city's $1 billion budget is eligible to them, officials say.

In 2017, black-owned businesses received about $7 million or 6 percent, of city contracts; Latino-owned businesses received just under $11 million or 9 percent.

READ MORE: How much money does Tampa award in city contracts to minority-owned firms?

Finally, Dingfelder asked city housing officials to explain the state of affordable housing efforts in Sulphur Springs.

Vanessa McClary, the city's housing and community development manager, said the city has been gradually raising the sales price on affordable homes built in partnership with local non-profits from $80,000 to $140,000 to recover more of the $150,000 cost of construction.

Dingfelder and Gudes questioned if $140,000 is really affordable for that low-income neighborhood.

With state and city assistance on down payments, the mortgages are often $100,000, she said. "Instead of looking at the home price, we should look at the mortgage that person is getting," she said.

Currently, the city budget doesn't allow for large-scale affordable housing construction, McClary said, saying she'd love to construct 100 homes a year.

"I said on the campaign trail I'd like to have a goal of 1,000 a year so we'll have many more conversations on that," Dingfelder said.

Chairman Luis Viera said his takeaway is that the new council is passionate about investing in neighborhoods. But he said many of the new council members' concerns could be answered just by asking city staff before the meeting.

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.