TAMPA — A third member of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s inner circle is leaving City Hall for a job with Jeff Vinik, and she’s taking experience on an issue — transportation — increasingly important to Vinik.
Special assistant to the mayor Christina Barker, 32, will be vice president of community partnerships and policy for the Vinik Family Office, which employs more than a dozen people and manages Vinik’s independent business interests.
"We feel so lucky to add Christina to our team," Vinik said in a statement Monday afternoon. "She excels not only as a strategist but also as a consensus-builder. Her talents will be put to good use as we work alongside partners toward realizing the best version of our community."
Over the past four years, Barker’s job at City Hall has included working on efforts to improve the TECO Line Streetcar System, city transportation policy, the Autism Friendly Tampa initiative, federal and state legislative priorities, grants, and paid parental leave, plus events like park openings and the annual State of the City speech. The city job pays $87,859 a year.
"She’s very policy-focused," Buckhorn said, who had started to groom Barker to replace longtime city manager of intergovernmental relations Deborah Stevenson when she retired. But, he said, Vinik’s office "expressed an interest" in Barker, which did not surprise him given Vinik’s growing advocacy on local transportation needs and options.
"There are so many parallels to what I’ve been doing and what I’m passionate about," Barker said of the new job, which she expects to start in mid-July.
In April, Vinik told the Tampa Bay Times he never expected to "learn about transportation and how important mobility is to a region" when he first bought the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But, he said, "you look at successful cities around the country, the citizens have the ability to get around without automobiles."
Barker follows two other members of Buckhorn’s staff who left City Hall to go to work for a different part of Vinik’s multi-faceted empire: Strategic Property Partners, the land development company that Vinik created with the Bill Gates personal wealth fund, Cascade Investment, to launch the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project near Amalie Arena.
In 2013, then-City Attorney Jim Shimberg became SPP’s executive vice president and general counsel. In 2015, city director of public affairs Ali Glisson left to become SPP’s vice president of marketing and communications.
A graduate of the University of South Florida and the University of Florida, where she received a master’s degree in political campaigning, Barker worked with Metropolitan Ministries, the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Greenlight Pinellas transportation initiative before going to work at the city.
"It’s been an incredible honor to serve the city of Tampa and work with all of the staff who selflessly work day in and day out to make Tampa one of the world’s greatest cities," Barker said. "I look forward to continuing that work at the Vinik Family Office. I am forever thankful to Mayor Buckhorn for the incredible opportunities over the past four years and to Mr. Vinik and his team for this next great chapter."
Given that Buckhorn himself has only 11 months left in office, he said he’s not sure he will replace Barker. Anyone new, he said, would not have much time on the job before a new mayor arrived with his or her own set of priorities and staff choices.
"It’s the natural way of things as the administration winds down," Buckhorn said of the departure.
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