Guest Column
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor explains why she will veto charter proposals | Column
The rushed and haphazard process followed by the Tampa City Council is not the thoughtful, deliberative and transparent process that residents deserve, the mayor writes.
Tampa City Council members at a meeting this month.
Tampa City Council members at a meeting this month. [ Charlie Frago ]
Published Jan. 18

Tampa City Council members want voters this March to consider several revisions to the City Charter, which establishes our government’s structure, powers and governing procedures. While I strongly believe in the right of voters to make decisions about our city government, I also believe that Tampa citizens deserve a thoughtful, deliberative and transparent process before being asked to vote on important charter changes affecting residents for generations to come.

Unfortunately, that did not occur with the rushed and haphazard process followed by the Tampa City Council. That is why, after speaking to individual council members, former mayors and many residents, I will veto these proposals. Our voters deserve better.

I’ve worked alongside this council for nearly four years, and this is the first time that I thought a veto was warranted. I don’t necessarily disagree with the spirit of some of the proposed amendments, but I believe they need to be more thoroughly vetted and developed before becoming part of our charter. In addition, some of these proposed changes could be accomplished by amending the city code, rather than revising the charter. I am glad to work cooperatively with City Council members to address any concerns they have that led to these proposed changes.

Jane Castor
Jane Castor [ Provided ]

Amending our city’s constitution should, at the very least, include public input at the front end, an identified purpose and need for the proposed change, an analysis of the financial impact of proposals, and an examination of how proposed charter changes interact with the rest of the charter to avoid contradictions and confusion.

Let’s review what happened instead in this case. City Council members scheduled a workshop for February 2022 to discuss potential charter amendments. They decided to delay that until March, then May, then September and then, finally, Nov. 1.

Hours before that meeting, at 1 in the morning, the City Council attorney for the first time shared with the public, administration and council members 21 proposed charter amendments that he expected to be presented to the public later that day. In addition, one City Council member made nearly two dozen motions for charter amendments that the public and fellow council members heard for the first time when they were read from the dais.

His fellow council members rejected the vast majority but did approve four. Two days later, they passed a fifth amendment with no advance notice to the public.

Council members so rushed this process that they literally left hours to spare to meet the legal deadline for placing proposals on the ballot.

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What’s the rush? To paraphrase an old Chamberlain High teacher of mine, “Your procrastination is not my emergency.” Polling shows more than 90 percent of Tampa residents have a high level of trust in their government, and there is no pressing need to justify hastily throwing complex issues on the ballot without thoughtfully vetting them.

This smacks too much of an attempted do-over by a few people who did not get their way in a much more methodical charter review process conducted just a few years ago. Tampa voters approved 18 charter amendments that were proposed by citizens — four of whom now sit on the City Council — on a Charter Review Commission that over 13 months conducted a thoughtful, transparent and careful review. In fact, four of the five amendments proposed this year were discussed by that commission, which did not recommend these changes.

As mayor, I have an obligation to look out for Tampa taxpayers and residents, and believe voters have an important voice in shaping how their city government functions. I shared with council members my specific concerns about the proposals. But the bottom line is that rushing complex policy changes onto the ballot without examining the financial impact on taxpayers and potential unintended consequences does not serve our community’s interests.

Jane Castor is the mayor of Tampa.