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Opinion
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Guest Column
It’s time to focus on people rather than politics at Tampa City Hall | Column
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson criticizes Mayor Jane Castor and writes that it’s time for transparency and accountability.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks with supporters during her reelection rally and 63rd birthday party on Wednesday in Tampa.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks with supporters during her reelection rally and 63rd birthday party on Wednesday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Dec. 9, 2022|Updated Dec. 9, 2022

In America we believe in representative government and a separation of powers. The City of Tampa’s charter (much like the U.S. Constitution) defines the powers of the mayor and City Council. Unfortunately, this mayor (and her predecessor) misinterpreted the “strong mayor” form of government to mean they have all the power and should not listen to City Council.

Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson

Council members, who are out in the community and listen to community feedback every day, naturally have been concerned about the overreach of the mayor’s office that has, in effect, taken away the powers of the City Council as defined in the charter. To remedy this situation, the City Council has proposed a series of charter amendments that will better define the separation of powers and prevent future mayors from encroaching on the powers of City Council.

A recent example was Mayor Castor’s choice for police chief. The community had great concerns about the background of Castor’s chosen candidate. Since the City Council is on the front line with the community, council members expressed those concerns to Castor’s staff. Instead of listening to those concerns, Castor’s staff bullied council members into accepting her choice. And the two who voted against were criticized by the mayor and her staff for daring to vote with the community. The results seen over the past few days on international media prove that Castor should have listened to the council and the community.

This administration (like the last) has also embarrassed our great city with racist policies such as “biking while Black” and “renting while Black,” which were first exposed by Tampa Bay Times investigative reporters. The latter is currently under a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation that Castor chose not to disclose to the council or the public for six months until someone leaked it to the media.

The public also wants safety. As reported on this editorial page months ago, the violent crime rate (a key indicator for investors) has gone up every year under Castor, a former police chief. The City Council has voted for every proposal by Castor to support the Tampa police, but her administration has failed to provide this basic protection to our citizens.

Constituents also complain loudly about roads that are falling apart. Instead of increasing the roads budget proportionately to the overall budget which has doubled, the Castor administration has failed to increase the road repair budget — instead supporting a tax increase that failed to get support from a majority of voters.

The Castor administration has also refused to implement fiscally prudent policies. They did not support an effort to move CRA money out of downtown (which has no slum and blight) to areas that need help. Castor personally admitted that she made the decision to not hold a competitive bid for a $108,000,000 new city office building. Saving just 5% would have doubled the road repair budget.

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Castor’s staff also refuse to be transparent with the council and the public when discussing major infrastructure proposals like the incinerator plant and “toilet to tap.” In meetings where the council queried staff about the 20/30 year plans and budget for the incinerator plant, staffers refused to answer or said “we don’t know.” After a consultant showed that “toilet to tap” would cost $2 billion to $6 billion, staffers then criticized council members for using those numbers.

It’s time for transparency and accountability at City Hall. It’s also time for the mayor and her staff to respect City Council’s powers as defined in the charter and to respect the separation of powers. It’s also time for the mayor to respect feedback from the public given to City Council members. Tampa’s citizens are tired of the politics and divisiveness that have caused chaos at City Council and community meetings. They want Castor to tell her staff to stop the attacks and instead collaborate with the council and the community to focus on the important issues impacting our city.

Bill Carlson represents District 4 on the Tampa City Council.