TAMPA — What started as a compromise forged of good will and trust Thursday ended back in the familiar grounds of a municipal power struggle as the City Council and Mayor Jane Castor’s office disputed the details.
At issue was Castor’s request to proceed with hiring a high-level director to run the day-to-day operations of the city’s eight community redevelopment areas.
Council members unanimously approved that request — with caveats.
Council member Bill Carlson added a stipulation that the extent of the city council’s power over the director be spelled out in an updated version of the agreement between the city and its community redevelopment agency.
And council member John Dingfelder inserted a provision that a super-majority of council members — five out of seven — would be able to fire the director on six months notice.
But after the vote, a dispute emerged over the hiring process.
Carlson, taking issue with an online Tampa Bay Times report Thursday, said the mayor had agreed to allow council members to select the new director. He also asserted that the council would exercise “joint authority” over the position.
At the end of the meeting several hours after their initial vote, when Carlson summarized the Times article, several of his colleagues appeared to agree with his assessment.
That’s not how the mayor’s office sees it.
The mayor will make the final call on the hire, although she’ll accept input from council members. And the director will report to her, although ultimately council members could fire her pick if they can muster five votes.
And, as has traditionally been the case, the director would make monthly reports to council members sitting as the redevelopment board, said Castor spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.
Amid the confusion, longtime council member Charlie Miranda pointed out that, in fact, not much had changed in the power structure. Five votes will always override a mayoral veto.
““You can override anything with five votes,” he said.
After it was all over, some of the trust and goodwill voiced by several council members earlier appeared frayed.
“It looks like the mayor’s office doesn’t understand the intent of council’s vote,” said Carlson after the meeting. “Or that there is a misunderstanding between the two parties.”
Who ultimately holds the power over the redevelopment areas has been a hot-button issue since a new council took office in May. Thursday’s meeting was supposed to clarify things, but it ended with a decided lack of clarity over the extent of city council’s power over the director.
It didn’t start out that way.
Earlier in the meeting, most of the council members said Castor’s agreement to create the new position demonstrated the good will of the new mayor and her commitment to work with them.
“This is an administration that is not a four-vote administration,” said council chairman Luis Viera, referring to the number of votes needed to pass a mayoral initiative. “This is not a bridge-burning administration. This is a bridge-building administration so far.”
Legally, council members have the right to hire their own director to run the city’s eight redevelopment areas. These cover some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, but also prized real estate including downtown and the Channel District. But traditionally, the mayor has controlled the management and spending of about $30 million in property tax revenues within their boundaries.
Earlier in the year, several council members, led by Carlson, expressed a desire to hire the director themselves and have that person report only to them. But after Castor agreed to create the director’s position within her administration. that effort faded.
In Thursday’s meeting, Carlson acknowledged he didn’t have the votes to get what he wanted: Full council control over the director. Several council members showed little appetite for taking complete control of the areas.
“I don’t want to be the one who draws first blood,” said council chairman Luis Viera.
But in the end, after Viera left the meeting to attend to family business, things got messy anyway.