Vote ‘No’ on all Tampa charter changes | Times Editorial Board recommendations
Election Day is March 7.
"I Voted" stickers.
"I Voted" stickers. [ ROBYN BECK/AFP | Getty Images North America ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 4|Updated Feb. 6

Tampa voters face four proposed charter changes in the March 7 city elections. Tampa’s charter is its constitution of sorts, establishing the framework for city government. The ballot measures are open to all Tampa voters, and they require majority approval to take effect. The deadline to register to vote is Feb. 6, and early voting begins Feb. 7.

Related: Read the Times recommendations in other Tampa races.

Question 1 — City council to create standing boards: No

This amendment would allow the City Council to create standing city boards without the mayor’s recommendation. Currently, the charter gives council the authority to create standing boards and ad hoc committees “upon the recommendation or with the approval of the mayor.” Supporters claim the provision is poorly worded to suggest the mayor’s approval is necessary in every case. Under the change, only ad hoc committees would need the mayor’s approval. The mayor could still veto a standing board created by council, but that is another step.

Council supporters describe the proposal as “clarifying” language, but it’s more than that. The change would resolve in council’s favor the conflicting interpretations over whether standing boards need the mayor’s approval. Tampa has standing boards for serious matters — pensions, workplace policies — and as the city’s chief executive (who staffs these boards and ensure they function) the mayor should have a voice. It’s also senseless to make the process for creating ad hoc boards harder than for permanent ones.

This change is fertilizer for divided city government. The Tampa Bay Times recommends a “No” vote.

Question 2 — Appointment of city department heads: No

Supporters also mischaracterize this amendment as “clarifying” language. In actuality, it micromanages some mayoral appointments and emboldens the council to second-guess the mayor’s executive team.

Part of the measure changes the charter to underscore that council has a role in confirming city department heads. But the charter defines that authority already. A new provision would restrict any interim appointment of an existing city employee to six months. This is an arbitrary time line for filling top jobs. Mayor Jane Castor, for example, has pushed off the national search for a new Tampa police chief until after the March elections in order to give the newly-installed council a chance to have input in the selection. That means the police department will almost certainly have an interim leader beyond six months. Ironically, delaying the search for a police chief was meant to satisfy the very council members who wanted a bigger say in the hiring.

The change is impractical and it would harm the city’s ability to hire the best people. The Tampa Bay Times recommends a “No” vote.

Question 3 — Added term limits for city council: No

This amendment would prohibit council members from serving more than four consecutive terms, which currently are four years apiece. Supporters say it would bring fresh blood into the political process.

Tampa’s charter already restricts council members to two consecutive terms. Some members termed out of a district seat have sought election citywide, or vice versa, thus enabling them to serve beyond eight years. Generally speaking, we believe voters should use the ballot box to decide who is qualified for office. Term limits may be reasonable in some partisan races, especially at the state level, given how the major parties control primaries, fundraising and messaging. But city offices in Tampa are nonpartisan. And the stated need for this measure — more fresh blood running for council — is debunked by the very ballot it’s on, as four of the six council members up for election this year face three or four challengers apiece.

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This is a solution in search of a problem. The Tampa Bay Times recommends a “No” vote.

Question 4 — Convening of Charter Review Commission: No

The city empanels a commission to review its charter every 10 years. Under this amendment, that would change to every eight years. The measure also requires the city to hire a lawyer and facilitator to assist with the process and makes those hires subject to city council approval.

There’s no need for this. Charter reviews are spaced out every 10 years for a reason — the charter is the city’s foundational document, and it should not be changed willy-nilly. Any alterations to how Tampa governs should be thoughtful and considered. Nobody has convincingly explained how shortening the wait time might improve City Hall. And the council already has the power to convene a charter review commission more often if it chooses. The existing charter also authorizes the council to engage “independent” assistance to facilitate the process.

Charter changes should serve a compelling need or correct a material defect. This does neither. The Tampa Bay Times recommends a “No” vote.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.