TAMPA — When Tampa Mayor Jane Castor unveiled her $1.254 billion budget to City Council members in a virtual meeting two weeks ago, no one on the call balked.
Not one of the seven council members threw up their hands or drew a line in the sand.
But plenty of activists and protesters were unhappy. Many of them expressed anger during the public comment period following Castor’s Aug. 6 presentation. They called for the former-police-chief-turned mayor to step down or at least for her to fire the current chief, Brian Dugan.
And dozens of speakers at council meetings in recent months have sounded a consistent theme: make radical cuts to the police department’s $180 million budget. Immediately.
The mayor, the city’s police chief between 2009 and 2015, has remained unmoved.
This week, she reiterated to the Tampa Bay Times that she is sticking to previous pledges not to cut the department’s budget. Those who wanted arbitrary cuts were not in tune with Tampa residents, she said.
“There’s a vocal group that’s calling for defunding of the police when there’s not a clear understanding of what that means,” Castor said Wednesday in a phone interview with the Times.
Castor said she didn’t expect a budget squabble.
“I’m always hopeful for a unanimous vote because, you know, I see us as a team, and we we are communicating very closely with council... So, I don’t foresee any surprises in this budget,” she said.
Before her 45-minute video budget presentation earlier this month, Castor or her staff met with each council member to brief them on the budget’s contents. Since her presentation, the mayor says she hasn’t heard a murmur of dissent.
But vague rumors have persisted around City Hall that some council members might ask for significant cuts to the police department’s budget as a price for their approval of Castor’s second budget.
Last year, council member Orlando Gudes refused to sign on to Castor’s inaugural budget until he got guarantees of full-time ambulance service for East Tampa and money for park upgrades in his district. He was vocally supported in that position by John Dingfelder and Bill Carlson.
Gudes got his budget requests and Castor got her budget approved unanimously.
“I’ve heard the vicious rumors,” said Joseph Citro, a first-term council member of a hoped-for budget deal involving defunding the police department.
“For the record, I would not support any cuts to the police department,” Citro said. “In fact, I’ll be asking for a little more help.”
Citro said he will request Castor amend her budget to include money for new police cars, computers and radios. The current inventory is dated, Citro said. He didn’t know Thursday how much his request will cost.
Citro said he supported activists’ calls for more budgetary transparency. He said he hoped his position was clear to everyone.
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Citro’s position matters because four council members would have to band together to cut police operations before the new budget takes effect Oct.1.
That kind of political alliance doesn’t appear to be forming.
Chairman Guido Maniscalco, who has marched with protesters, said he thinks the police department should sell off some of the military-grade surplus equipment it acquired before the 2012 Republican National Convention.
But, anything more — like cutting officer’s pay or pensions — is a non-starter, Maniscalco said.
“There’s majority support for the police department,” Maniscalco said. “People are telling me constantly: ‘Don’t cut the police. We want to feel safe.‘”
Maniscalco represents West Tampa, parts of Seminole Heights, Westshore and waterfront areas of South Tampa.
Council member Luis Viera, a strong ally of the police and fire unions and a consistent defender of both departments, said he doesn’t support “defunding” the police and fully supports Castor’s stance.
“I’ve been very clear with people who ask me: defunding the police is not something I support. I do not support cuts to emergency safety,” said Viera, who represents North Tampa and New Tampa.
Charlie Miranda has made it publicly clear that he isn’t a likely ‘yes’ vote on any defunding effort.
The 79-year-old dean of Tampa politics vowed to quit a year into his eighth term if Castor fired Dugan. And Miranda, who first served in the early 1970s, was widely criticized among activists for reading a Publix circular residents spoke at a recent meeting.
Miranda, who holds a citywide seat, seemed to shrug off those gripes, saying Thursday during a council meeting that he habitually reads what he finds on his City Hall office desk during public comment.
That public comment has stretched for hours at times since the protests started shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.
Castor challenged any council member who wanted to push a “defunding” agenda during the budget season, which culminates with two September council votes.
“I would expect that the council members if they feel that way that they would be having discussion with myself or the administration about that, because, you know, we we’ve been very clear in the the role that law enforcement plays in our community, and the fact that we are one of the safest cities our size in the nation and, and how that plays a formidable part in the success of our community, and the steps that we need to take to fix those systemic issues,” Castor told the Times. “You know, it’s easier to say defund the police than it is to roll up your sleeves and make meaningful progress in those issues.”
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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.
WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.
WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.
CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.