Tampa City Council meeting ends in acrimony, charter fight

The bad blood among City Council members was on full display late Thursday.
Tampa CIty Council member Orlando Gudes rises during an angry exchange with council chairperson Joseph Citro.
Tampa CIty Council member Orlando Gudes rises during an angry exchange with council chairperson Joseph Citro. [ City of Tampa ]
Published Nov. 4, 2022|Updated Nov. 4, 2022

TAMPA —A seven-hour meeting of the City Council ended with bitter words Thursday evening after a week in which factions on the board debated a slate of proposals aimed at limiting Mayor Jane Castor’s power.

In the closing minutes of Thursday’s meeting, Orlando Gudes successfully pushed through a potential charter change, which led to an angry exchange with council chairperson Joe Citro, who had opposed it.

Gudes accused Citro of treating the council “like we’re garbage,” before rising as if to leave the meeting.

Gudes, continued to yell off mic at Citro, who responded: “There’s no respect here.”

“You’re right! You don’t respect this council!” shouted Gudes, while his colleagues on either side, Charlie Miranda and Lynn Hurtak, appeared to try to calm him. He quickly returned to his seat.

The outburst underscored a stark divide on the board among council members who increasingly vote in blocs. Gudes, Hurtak and Bill Carlson are consistent critics of Castor. Miranda, Citro, Luis Viera and, more recently, Guido Maniscalco, have largely supported the mayor’s positions on issues that come before the board.

Citro’s was one of two votes against the proposal that would require the mayor to pick an interim department head from the pool of existing city employees while seeking to fill vacancies. The proposal, which would potentially go to voters, would require that person to be called “interim,” rather than the job’s title, until the council approves a permanent replacement.

The proposal harkens back to a spring dispute, when Mayor Jane Castor’s administration referred to Police Chief Mary O’Connor as “chief” before she gained council approval.

On Thursday, Gudes brought the proposal up as the board’s regular weekly meeting was winding down. City Council Attorney Martin Shelby’s voiced reservations about council members taking up the matter during the “new business” portion of the meeting.

That typically comes at the end and involves shout-outs to civic organizations and providing a heads-up on proposals that members are planning to introduce at a future meeting. It rarely, if ever, involves votes on substantive issues, such as charter amendments.

Viera expressed hesitation when Gudes brought the issue forward.

“We haven’t had lunch today or dinner and we’re going to vote on a charter amendment? Okay, then, no,” Viera said.

Citro agreed, noting that council members had discussed charter changes on Tuesday and declined to move forward with most of them.

“We just did this two days ago, there’s no need to be doing this again,” Citro said, prompting Gudes’ outburst.

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Hurtak, Gudes and Carlson were on the losing side Tuesday on most of the proposed charter changes.

After Gudes took his seat Thursday, the drama wasn’t over.

Hurtak, who earlier had said that City Council had the right to initiate changes in the charter at any time, then introduced a charter change that would have prohibited city money from being spent on any abortion-related prosecutions or investigations. That failed 5-2, with Gudes joining Hurtak in support.

“The ordinance is already written so you have a month to read it, to talk about it, to talk to other people about it,” Hurtak told her colleagues before the vote. “I’m trying to do everything I can to support women and those who are health-care workers who work with women.”

Council member Luis Viera asked for legal staff to review the proposal for its feasibility before council voted.

“No,” Hurtak said. “I want an up or down vote on this.”

Hurtak also showed visible frustration with Citro, who played a key role in her appointment to City Council in March after John Dingfelder resigned.

When Citro asked Hurtak what time she wanted to hold a special discussion on council meetings and procedures, Hurtak curtly informed him that she already had noted the meeting time in her motion.

When Citro appeared to ask for clarification, Hurtak bristled.

“You know what? I’m at the point where I’ll be here at six,” Hurtak retorted.

The meeting in the Sister Cities room at Old City Hall in downtown Tampa will be held at 8 a.m. Thursday before the council’s regularly scheduled Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.