Bill Carlson wants to cut off city cash to the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council

The Tampa City Council member says the development agency isn’t doing its job. Agency officials say Carlson’s “smear campaign” stems from personal malice.
Council member Bill Carlson during a meeting this year at the old city hall in downtown Tampa,
Council member Bill Carlson during a meeting this year at the old city hall in downtown Tampa, [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Oct. 29, 2019|Updated Oct. 29, 2019

TAMPA — In a dispute that began with a name change, Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson said Tuesday the city should stop funding the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council.

Known until this week as the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, the agency now goes by its new name, a change Carlson has criticized for damaging regional ties and confusing out-of-state companies looking to relocate.

RELATED: Should Tampa organizations rename themselves ‘Tampa Bay?'

On Tuesday, Carlson accelerated his attack, saying the council shouldn’t receive public money because it lacks transparency and hasn’t been effective at bringing good jobs to the region.

“This organization has a track record of never being successful,” Carlson said.

Council officials said their agency has created 34,000 jobs and generated $2.5 billion in investment through 270 projects over the last ten years. Carlson’s claims are baseless and motivated by personal malice, including a failed attempt to become a board member of the organization before his successful run for City Council this year, the agency’s chief executive officer said.

Craig J. Richard, the council’s CEO, said Carlson is conducting a “smear campaign.” He said Carlson’s longstanding feud with former mayor Bob Buckhorn also plays a role in the council member’s animus.

“He’d like to villainize anyone who was allies with his arch-enemy,” Richard said.

RELATED: Buckhorn and Carlson feud starts on social media, finishes in newspaper

Carlson said the agency’s relationship with Buckhorn isn’t a factor in his stance. He said he never tried to become a board member, but was rebuffed when he inquired about a role in the agency’s international trade missions. And Richard later “trash talked” him to the mayor, he said.

With the roughly $500,000 currently being paid to the agency, the city could hire its own economic development officials, Carlson said. The economic impact touted by the development corporation is “paper thin," he said, and lacks proper public oversight.

If city money were cut off, Carlson said, “they could still be a secretive, private organization."

The development corporation has a proven record of attracting high-paying jobs to the region and working with regional partners to grow local businesses, Richard said.

Of Carlson’s claims, he said: “I’m trying not to laugh.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and County Commission Chairman Les Miller have recently signaled their support for the development corporation. And some of Carlson’s council colleagues seemed unenthusiastic about his plan to cut off city money.

“I don’t think it would be right to pull the plug on them,” said Guido Maniscalco. “I’d say they’re doing their job and doing it well.”

Council chairman Luis Viera voiced similar sentiments. “I haven’t seen any justification for such a move,” he said.

Earlier this month, at Carlson’s urging, the City Council sent a letter to the then- economic development corporation asking the agency not to change its name .

They responded by “giving us the big middle finger,” Carlson said. He acknowledged that Tucker Hall, his public relations company, is a member of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation but isn’t a member of the council.

“They aren’t doing their job," he said.