TAMPA — Last spring, as controversy engulfed relations between Mayor Jane Castor and the City Council, the mayor held a hastily called Friday afternoon news conference to say the Justice Department was investigating the city.
The probe involved a police program that encouraged landlords to evict tenants who had been arrested.
The city had been notified of the federal investigation of the “crime-free” housing program a few days before Christmas 2021, but hadn’t acknowledged it publicly until the end of April. On Thursday, council members said that shouldn’t happen again.
And City Attorney Andrea Zelman said they were right.
Referencing comments by Castor made to the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week, Zelman said, “The mayor has acknowledged, I believe very recently, that communication happen more more openly and quickly. And this is an example.”
In a Tuesday interview with the Times editorial board, Castor responded to a question about what she would do differently as mayor as her first term winds down by saying she could improve her overall communications approach. She didn’t mention the crime-free housing program.
Zelman urged the council not to require the mayor to notify them when an investigation is underway, saying sometimes it’s in the city’s interest to keep mum. She proposed arriving at a less formal arrangement than one with the force of law. Council members didn’t bite.
Council members Bill Carlson and Lynn Hurtak, who have repeatedly clashed with the mayor or attempted to constrain her authority, led the effort to ask Zelman to bring back a draft ordinance at the March 2 meeting. It would require the mayor to notify council members within 10 days of a federal or state investigation. The measure passed unanimously.