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Mayor Jane Castor reasserts control over Tampa’s redevelopment areas

Council members retreat from hiring an executive director who would report to them on the city’s eight blighted areas.
Jane Castor appears to have beaten back an attempt from the City Council to wrest day-to-day control over Tampa's eight community redevelopment areas.
Jane Castor appears to have beaten back an attempt from the City Council to wrest day-to-day control over Tampa's eight community redevelopment areas.
Published Oct. 28, 2019

TAMPA—Tampa will hire an executive whose focus will be managing the city’s community redevelopment districts, created over the last fifteen years to revive blighted neighborhoods.

Everyone agrees that’s a good thing. But, in a major change from their earlier position, the executive likely won’t report to council members.

If Mayor Jane Castor gets her way, the director ultimately will be hired by her administration and report to her. At least that was the plan presented by Chief of Staff John Bennett Monday to little dissent from council members.

The final decision will be made at next month’s Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.

Since taking office in May, a majority of council members had voiced support for having the director report to them because the City Council also sits as the Community Redevelopment Agency board and has final responsibility for the $33 million in revenue generated by property taxes within each area’s boundaries.

After Bennett’s presentation, that consensus melted away. By the end of Monday’s workshop, only council member Bill Carlson was still making the case that a director needed to report to council members.

Afterward, Carlson said he was okay with how things turned out, noting the administration’s willingness to separate the redevelopment area job from that of the economic development director.

“That’s really a big win,” Carlson said.

Asked if wresting back control was a victory for the mayor, Bennett demurred: “It’s a victory for the community,” he said.

Carlson said the same thing, but also noted that council members still have the power to cancel the agency’s contract with the city if they were unhappy with the director’s performance.

Bennett said the City Council’s about face is evidence of a new relationship between Castor and a council that took office pledging not to be a rubber stamp for a strong mayor.

“I think we’re building trust,” Bennett said.

Economic Opportunity Administrator Bob McDonaugh had also overseen the redevelopment areas before he retired in August. Council members Carlson, Orlando Gudes and John Dingfelder led the charge to reorganize the position so that council members would have more direct control.

As the community redevelopment agency, council members have always had ultimate authority under the city’s charter, but mayors have traditionally made the major decisions.

Dingfelder said splitting McDonaugh’s old job into two positions was a good start.

“I think that’s a good positive first step,” he said. “Maybe that’s enough for today.”

RELATED: Tampa City Council wants to change the way CRAs work

Council members Charlie Miranda and Luis Viera had been less inclined to assert council control over the redevelopment area’s top official, although Viera had signaled he’d be willing to go along with the move.

On Monday, he sounded much less enthusiastic.

“I want to make sure we don’t have an answer in search of a problem," Viera said.

Bennett said the administration’s plan will be to hire a director who would report to the city’s economic development director — a position open since McDonaugh’s retirement.

No other city in Florida has a redevelopment director reporting to council members instead of the mayor, city economic development officials said.

RELATED: Are Community Redevelopment Areas hurting Tampa?

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