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Tampa City Council meetings are longer. Will they be pricier?

The city says it might have to adjust the budget to cover increased closed-captioning costs. That’s the price of democracy, some members say.
Tampa City Council meetings are longer than they used to be. Is that a good or bad thing?
Tampa City Council meetings are longer than they used to be. Is that a good or bad thing? [ Charlie Frago ]
Published Sep. 24, 2019

TAMPA — These days, City Council meetings in Florida’s third-largest city are no longer Thursday morning exercises in local governance sprinkled with Charlie Miranda jokes.

If you go, pack a lunch (but also plan to eat it outside during the frequent breaks for lunch that now mark an intermission, not an end, to many meetings).

Sessions that used to wrap up by noon are often stretching deep into the afternoon. It’s causing consternation among some city staff and residents.

And it is fast becoming a matter of dollars and cents.

If the meetings continue at their current length, the city will have to adjust its budget by about $5,000 to cover closed-captioning costs.

“Everything comes with a price and captioning is no different,” said Ashley Bauman, Mayor Jane Castor’s spokeswoman. “If these meetings continue to exceed our average allotted time, we’re going to to have to amend the budget to ensure (American with Disabilities Act) compliance.”

One of the reasons for longer meetings is the presence of four new council members who have pulled items off the consent agenda, asked for more staff reports and used their new powers to give commendations to members of the community. Those are all notable breaks, at least in volume, from council members’ traditional deference to the city’s strong mayor system.

John Dingfelder is one of the more vocal council members. He said Tuesday that he’s doing his job.

“ADA compliance is critical. As are the questions the City Council asks. It’s City Council’s responsibility to ask a lot of questions and ask tough questions,” Dingfelder said.

Tampa isn’t alone in lengthier meetings. A few St. Petersburg City Council meetings have lasted a dozen of more hours and meetings of six or seven hours aren’t uncommon. Last week, a meeting wrapped up in just under 8 1/2 hours.

And Hillsborough County Commission meetings have gone from morning affairs to much longer events since the November 2018 election, which brought three new members and a shift in control from Republicans to Democrats.

In Tampa, council member Guido Maniscalco, who has served since 2015, said engagement was something constituents urged constantly on the campaign trail earlier this year.

“One thing I was told when I was running was: ‘Don’t be a rubber stamp for the administration.’" he said.

Council chairman Luis Viera issued new rules last week intended to make meetings more efficient, including limiting staff reports to five minutes, limiting workshop items to 30 minutes of discussion and limiting members to two commendations per meeting.

Viera, an attorney who sometimes has to leave longer meetings for work obligations, said he hopes the new rules will strike a balance that will satisfy everyone.

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“We have a City Council that is very enthusiastic. I think we can have a robust discussion while respecting people’s time,” Viera said.


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