Tampa Council: Who speaks for city government?

11/08/07 Mitch E.Perry
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Stung by Mayor Pam Iorio contradicting a recent policy decision they enacted, Tampa City Council members today discussed the question who truly speaks for city government.

The mayor rejected a Council-approved motion to ask the Hillsborough Legislative delegation to draft a bill in that would allow Tampa, as well as Plant City and Temple Terrace, to get representation on the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission (EPC).

The original motion was proposed by Councilwoman Mary Mulhern, who said she did so to protect the city’s interests. That move came after Hillsborough Commissioners indicated they were prepared to scuttle the wetlands protection division of the EPC. The Board later backed away from that idea, and ultimately approved a hybrid plan to streamline the agency.

But two weeks ago, Iorio wrote to the state Legislative delegation, saying the city of Tampa did not support changing the composition of the EPC.

That angered some Councilmembers, particularly Mulhern. And a subsequent comment a few days later by City Attorney David Smit only fueled the fire, when he told the St. Petersburg Times if council members "want to be mayor, they should run for mayor."

Smith went before the Council Thursday morning asking for forgiveness for that remark. He then reviewed portions of the City Charter that he had dog–eared in preparation for the discussion, citing portions that he said emphasized a strong mayor form of government in Tampa.

Smith also referred to his role as a City Attorney, which he said was to provide the best legal advice for the city of Tampa – not for Mayor Iorio. He said it was his job not to engage in politics.

The challenge to Mayor Iorio’s authority has essentially come from two new members of the Council – Mary Mulhern and Thomas Scott. Scott said he had recently conferred with several attorneys, as well as former Mayor Sandy Freedman and former County Commissioner Jan Platt about Iorio’s letter, in which she said she spoke for the City.

The Council’s attorney, Marty Shelby, then offered his opinion on the mayor’s letter.

City Councilman John Dingfelder said he thought it was not appropriate for Shelby, the City Council Attorney, to be subservient to David Smith, the City Attorney. He said it impeded Shelby from giving the best possible legal advise.

Dingfelder then mentioned what some have criticized the Council for in the past -- being too passive, and not taking action that it is allowed to do under the Charter.

Dingfelder says now that he’s reviewed the Charter, he will now prepare an ordinance, without waiting for the administration's okay.

City Councilman Charlie Miranda took a more contrarian view than some of his colleagues on the issue. Miranda said the Mayor should not have referred to the city in her letter, but simply herself. But he said he wasn’t going to vote to change anything.

Mulhern said that she wasn’t trying to start a fight when she proposed that the city be represented on the EPC.

Mulhern added that she didn’t know if she nesssarily supports changing any part of the Charter, but called it a valuable discussion on the powers the mayor of Tampa enjoys.

The Council then voted to have a discussion on the City Charter next February. Mulhern’s bill has been endorsed by Plant City Legislative representative Rich Glorioso, who said last week that Iorio’s letter has given him pause on whether or not to pursue sponsoring legislation having Tampa be a part of the EPC.

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