Tampa City Council approves charter changes to voters

Mayor Jane Castor’s administration has opposed some of the five amendments slated for voters in the March 7 city election.
Tampa City Council members at Thursday's meeting approved sending five charter amendments to voters in the March 7 city election.
Tampa City Council members at Thursday's meeting approved sending five charter amendments to voters in the March 7 city election. [ Charlie Frago ]
Published Jan. 5|Updated Jan. 5

TAMPA — Five proposed changes to Tampa’s governing document — the City Charter — were approved with veto-proof majorities by City Council members Thursday.

The charter amendment that grabbed most of the attention would require council members’ approval of department heads and limit how long high-ranking city officials can carry the “interim” status to six months. In December, the measure barely squeaked by with a 4-3 vote. On Thursday, after a long discussion, council members unanimously approved sending it to voters in the March 7 city election.

The issue arose last year after Mayor Jane Castor, over the protests of some community members and council members, picked Mary O’Connor as police chief. The wrangling over O’Connor’s appointment, which was eventually approved by council members, sparked the proposal, said council member Lynn Hurtak.

“This prevents that from happening again,” Hurtak said.

O’Connor resigned in December after a video surfaced of her asking a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy to “let us go” after being pulled over with her husband while driving an unlicensed golf cart on a public street.

The charter already contained language requiring council approval of department heads and administrators, but council members wanted to clarify that a mayor’s pick isn’t an appointment, but a nomination that must receive four council members’ votes.

“There was a flaw. When a situation arises, and you’re stuck, you fix the process,” said Orlando Gudes, who opposed O’Connor’s selection. “To say you won’t fix a process that’s broken is asinine to me. We cannot be afraid politically to fix things.”

Nicole Travis, the city’s administrator of development and economic opportunity, said the measure would discourage the city from recruiting “c-suite” level officials. Travis, who took her current job after being lured from a similar position in Lakeland, said she wouldn’t have been interested if the amendment had been on the books.

“I would never have taken this job knowing that I was leaving a city that loved me and I loved it, knowing that I may not get the votes,” Travis said.

But, council members didn’t respond to her appeal. In fact, council members, Luis Viera, Charlie Miranda and Joseph Citro, reversed their previous positions and voted for the amendment. Viera said he thought the idea was “reasonable.” Miranda said he decided it would “do no harm.” Citro didn’t explain his switch from the dais.

Their decisions to change their votes came after City Council attorney Martin Shelby reminded council members that Castor could veto the amendments or not sign them for 14 days. That would put the city in a difficult position to get them on the March 7 ballot. The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office needs the final language by Jan. 20, Shelby said.

The only votes lodged against the charter changes came on a proposal to give council members the sole power to create “standing boards” without the mayor’s recommendation. Miranda and Citro voted no. But the proposal gained five votes, a council supermajority that would theoretically override a mayoral veto.

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Although a mayoral veto doesn’t appear likely to change the final outcome, considering Thursday’s vote, Castor remained mum Thursday about her intentions.

“She will review what the council approves before making a decision,” wrote Castor spokesperson Adam Smith in an email after the votes.

The other proposed charter amendments, which can be approved by a simple majority of voters, would:

  • Prohibit council members from serving more than four consecutive terms.
  • Empower the city’s volunteer police oversight board, the Citizen Review Board, to select an attorney who is not a city employee.
  • Shorten the time between charter review by a commission of volunteers appointed by council members and the mayor. The Charter Review Commission would convene every 8 years instead of 10 years.