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‘It’s not a power struggle. It’s a dance’ at Tampa City Hall

Mayor Jane Castor’s administration and City Council reach an agreement on the role of a new director for the city’s redevelopment areas.
John Bennett, chief of staff for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, said an agreement with Tampa City Council over the role of a newly-created position to oversee the city's redevelopment areas reflects a spirit of collaboration between the mayor and council members. [CHARLIE FRAGO  |  Times]
John Bennett, chief of staff for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, said an agreement with Tampa City Council over the role of a newly-created position to oversee the city's redevelopment areas reflects a spirit of collaboration between the mayor and council members. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
Published Jan. 16

TAMPA — Questions about who has the power to hire and fire the director who will supervise the city’s Community Redevelopment Areas was ironed out Thursday, resolving an issue on the front burner of City Hall politics since May.

Shortly after taking office, council members Bill Carlson, John Dingfelder and Orlando Gudes led an effort for council members to control the city’s redevelopment areas, a power given to City Councils under state law. Carlson in particular argued the redevelopment areas had been mismanaged in the past. He said the city needed a redevelopment director to manage them and report directly to council members, who comprise the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.

RELATED: Council members move to control redevelopment areas

Mayor Jane Castor agreed to create the position, but the mayor’s office and council then tussled over who the director would report to and who would have the power to hire and fire the official.

RELATED: Castor reasserts control over the city’s redevelopment areas

Those issues now appear to be resolved.

A formal vote on the agreement will likely come in February, but Castor’s chief of staff John Bennett confirmed that the City Council, as redevelopment agency board members, will have the power to choose the community redevelopment director.

“Let me phrase it this way. The CRA board is going to do the selection," he said. The city will then screen the person, he said, similar to the way council members pick their own aides and the city handles screening them through the Human Resources Department.

Under the arrangement, Castor’s administration would recruit candidates and present them to council members, either in a series of one-on-one meetings or in a group meeting.

Bennett told the Tampa Bay Times that council members would have the final recommendation of who should be hired. He said he couldn’t imagine a scenario in which council members select a candidate only to have Castor reject that person, barring any human resource issue like a criminal record or a failed drug test.

Another stumbling block had been whether the director would report to council members or the mayor.

Council member Joseph Citro asked Bennett to explain the chain of command “one last time.” Carlson said what he thought council members had agreed to at its December board meeting wasn’t reflected in a job description recently circulated by the administration.

A copy of that job description obtained by The Times said the director “serves at the pleasure of the mayor, with the CRA board also providing input on the employee’s job performance.” The job description was a draft, not a final document, city officials said.

“I want to make sure we are all on the same page,” said Citro, who is the redevelopment board’s chairman at the meeting. “That the CRA director will report functionally to the CRA board, directly to the CRA board, and report HR-wise to the mayor.”

Bennett confirmed that arrangement.

“It’s exactly what was read. It’s exactly what we’re looking forward to,” Bennett said.

City administration and the council also agreed that five council members could vote to put the director on a six-month notice if the director failed to perform in a satisfactory manner. A second vote would “constitute a request by the redevelopment board that the city remove and replace the director," according to the proposed agreement.

Council member John Dingfelder asked this: What if the mayor wanted to get rid of the director and council members didn’t?

Bennett said the Castor administration is working in a collaborative spirit with council members and couldn’t imagine such a scenario.

“I just don’t see where the problem would surface itself,” he said.

Afterward, Bennett said the issue of whether the mayor or city council has the ultimate authority had been miscast as a battle for control of the redevelopment areas — which generally are blighted communities that have been designated to receive extra tax revenue.

“It’s not a power struggle. It’s a dance ... no offense, I know the media would like it to be a power struggle. It’s not a power struggle. This is a dance and a concert to work together for the benefit of the community,” Bennett said.

RELATED: The power struggle continues

Carlson also characterized the agreement as a “win for everybody."

“It shows that the administration is interested in collaborating with us on everything,” Carlson said after the meeting.

Council members unanimously approved Michelle Van Loan, a longtime economic development official, to be the interim director. A national search will begin for a permanent director, Bennett said.

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