Jane Castor did something Wednesday that no Tampa mayor has done for a long time: She used her veto power, sending five proposed changes to the City Charter back to City Council.
Council members had approved all five by veto-proof majorities earlier this month.
Castor announced her vetoes in an unusual way. Several council members read about the mayor’s action in the opinion pages of the Tampa Bay Times. Her staff hand-delivered a memo outlining her reasoning to council members’ offices later in the morning. Later Castor sent a brief email to them at 8:55 a.m. notifying the members, all of whom have outside jobs, what she had done.
Around City Hall on Wednesday, no one could remember the last time that a mayor vetoed a council action. Former Mayor Bob Buckhorn didn’t sign a 2016 ordinance that created a way for council members to call for city audits, but it went into effect anyway after the charter-required 14 days without a mayoral signature had passed.
City Council attorney Martin Shelby said he couldn’t remember a mayoral veto since he started working for the city in June 2004. City Clerk officials were working to determine the last veto on Wednesday.
In her memo, Castor said she was concerned about the “deeply flawed” process by which council members had approved the changes, characterizing them as “rushed,” “lacking transparency” and imperfectly analyzed without sufficient public input.
Council member Lynn Hurtak, one of the leaders of the effort to tweak the city’s governing document, said she was confident her colleagues would muster the necessary five votes to overturn the mayor’s vetoes.
And Hurtak took issue with the mayor’s reasoning, saying that there were four public hearings, all televised, on the changes.
The proposed changes include curbing the mayor’s power to create city boards; removing her power to appoint a lawyer for the city’s police oversight panel, the Citizens Review Board; and clarifying that council members must approve mayoral appointments for positions that rank above department heads.
The charter amendments, if approved, will go to voters in the March 7 election. If council members swiftly override the veto at Thursday’s meeting, there should be enough time to get the paperwork to the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office by the Friday deadline, Shelby said.
“Both sides will have a chance to vote on these. That’s direct democracy,” Hurtak said.
She said she’s been hearing from residents that the biggest issue for them is having a check on mayoral power.
“Do the voters think that we are the best use of a check and balances system or do they just want us to be a rubber stamp?” Hurtak said.
Orlando Gudes said when he met with the mayor last week, he tried to persuade her that the amendments were not an attack on mayoral powers. She didn’t agree, he said.
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“I feel like I wasted my time,” Gudes said.
Castor responded through a spokesperson that she values council members’ opinions.
“Mayor Castor respects the council members’ opinions, but doing to right thing for Tampa residents is her top priority,” texted Adam Smith minutes after this story initially published.
Bill Carlson, the most outspoken critic of Castor, said her vetoes were a disappointment.
“I think it’s disappointing and it shows a sense of fear in the mayor’s office and a lack of respect for the democratic process,” Carlson said.
Council member Joseph Citro didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Guido Maniscalco said late Wednesday that he hadn’t decided how he would vote. He did say that Castor’s veto of all five amendments was “a little much.”
Council member Luis Viera has often attempted to lower the temperature on the often hostile relationship between Castor and council members. He said Wednesday that the discussion on the proposed charter changes needs to remain cordial — on all sides.
“We’re going to have a disagreement. It’s incumbent on us to air out those disagreements in a way that doesn’t escalate the rhetorical war that in the end serves nobody,” Viera said.
Citro, Viera and Miranda have been allies of the mayor. On Wednesday, Miranda said he didn’t know how he would vote Thursday. But he doesn’t want to erode the strong mayor form of government that is Tampa’s political tradition, he said.
“I want a strong mayor form of government. It’s been working for a long time,” Miranda said.