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Tampa City Council schedules a return to work

Council members will start meeting either virtually or in person May 7
Tampa City Hall.
Tampa City Hall. [ CHARLIE FRAGO | Times ]
Published Apr. 21, 2020
Updated Apr. 21, 2020

TAMPA — Eager to return to work after spending the better part of two months largely idled as a legislative body, the Tampa City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to restart meetings next month.

Whether those meetings will be in a large space like the Tampa Convention Center to provide plenty of room to maintain social distancing or held virtually remains to be seen.

Everyone agreed that the cramped City Council chambers in Old City Hall wouldn’t be appropriate to hold meetings in early May.

“There’s no way to do it in council chambers,” said council member John Dingfelder.

No one argued with him or with Chairman Luis Viera, who said attempting to meet on the third-floor of Old City Hall wouldn’t be appropriate.

The first order of business at the council’s May 7 meeting will be to elect a new chairman and vice chairman as well as the same posts for council’s role as board members of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.

Most council members preferred to perform those elections, which have provided some drama in years past, in person.

Related: Heckling, possibly a throat-slashing gesture and 14 votes: Tampa drama in electing new City Council chairman

But, after Mayor Jane Castor’s chief of staff John Bennett said sterilizing and preparing space in the convention center could present logistical challenges, the council voted unanimously to leave the decision to city staff to stage the May meetings in person or virtually.

Before the vote, Viera said he thought spending time and money just for the election of council leadership posts, which last for one year, “would be a poor use of resources.”

Council members also agreed to adopt City Attorney Gina Grimes’ schedule to resume quasi-judicial hearings in June and to eliminate the backlog of rezonings and other real-estate related matters by the end of that month by holding extra meetings. They’ll formally adopt that schedule by a vote next week.

Grimes said holding quasi-judicial hearings virtually would leave the city liable to legal challenges. The convention center was discussed as a possible option. Another would be to hold a hybrid meeting similar to last week where four council members would be present and three others would attend by phone.

Last week’s short meeting to approve federal stimulus money and a University of Tampa bond issue was marred when three council members weren’t able to vote by phone due to technical glitches.

Council members will next gather virtually for a workshop on Bayshore Boulevard safety on April 30.

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