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Dingfelder helped by GoFundMe to pay legal fees

The fund had raised $8,015 with a goal of $65,000, the amount Dingfelder said he’s spent on legal fees in the lawsuit that led to his resignation.
 
Former Tampa City Council Member John Dingfelder.
Former Tampa City Council Member John Dingfelder. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published March 25, 2022

Neighborhood activists whose causes John Dingfelder championed as a Tampa City Council member, until his forced resignation last week, have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for his legal expenses.

As of Thursday morning, the fund had raised $8,015 with a goal of $65,000, the amount Dingfelder said he’s spent on legal fees in the lawsuit that led to his resignation.

The page was organized by Robert Whitmore of Plant City, formerly of South Tampa, leader of a citizen action group called City Tree that opposes tree cutting.

Whitmore said the fund was suggested by Stephanie Poyner, organizer of Stop Overbuilding South of Gandy, a group that advocated limits on South Tampa development.

Dingfelder sometimes sided with the organization in opposing or seeking to limit developments, including a housing development on Gandy Boulevard that led to the lawsuit.

Dingfelder’s resignation was part of a settlement of the lawsuit. The settlement agreement stipulated that he would not seek reimbursement of his legal fees from the city.

Steve Michelini, a lobbyist who frequently represents developers, sued Dingfelder in October over allegations that Dingfelder failed to release requested public records and threatened Michelini in a City Hall hallway.

Among the GoFundMe donors is county Commissioner Pat Kemp, also known for advocating limits on development.

Dingfelder “has always done what’s right, sticking up for the citizens and his constituents,” said Poyner. “I don’t think any of our elected officials should go into debt or have their retirement put at risk to defend doing the job they were elected to do.”

Poyner is president of the Tampa Homeowners Association of Neighborhoods, but said it isn’t involved in the effort.

Whitmore said he didn’t discuss the GoFundMe page with Dingfelder before organizing it, and Dingfelder said he doesn’t know Whitmore well.

“It was sort of a maverick thing to do,” Whitmore said. “John has been a real proponent for smart growth and saving trees.”

Dingfelder said he faced the possibility of having to pay six-figure sums for his legal defense, threatening his and his wife’s retirement savings.