Mayor Castor’s staff to discuss if city council should be notified when Tampa faces criminal or civil rights investigations

Castor waited five months to tell the public about the DOJ’s ongoing ‘renting while Black’ probe

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click to enlarge Mayor Jane Castor speaks at a press conference about the crime free multi-housing program in Tampa, Florida on April 29, 2022. - Screengrab via City of Tampa/YouTube
Screengrab via City of Tampa/YouTube
Mayor Jane Castor speaks at a press conference about the crime free multi-housing program in Tampa, Florida on April 29, 2022.
At a city council workshop Thursday morning, Mayor Jane Castor’s legal staff will discuss city council’s long-standing request to receive prompt notice when Tampa is under investigation for major issues.

Specifically, council wants to be notified within 10 days if a criminal or civil rights investigation against the city has begun. The request from council came after Castor kept the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) investigation into Tampa Police Departments racially-biased “crime free multi-housing” program a secret for five months.

Castor revealed the investigation was taking place on April 29 of last year at a press conference, 10 days after Creative Loafing Tampa Bay made a public records request about the matter. Castor had overseen the program as police chief, and defended it during the presser. She also revealed that she and her legal team had been notified in December of 2021 by the DOJ that the investigation was starting.
In response, last May, council voted unanimously to be notified of such investigations and wanted to put an ordinance in place to solidify their decision. But Castor’s legal team asked for more time to discuss the issue, and whether or not it should be enacted via ordinance, which council originally requested.

Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak told CL that if any laws of the city or the civil rights of constituents have been violated, then council should be made aware as soon as possible.

“I don’t think the 10-day notification period is onerous,” Hurtak said.

About criminal investigations, Hurtak said that if laws of the city have been broken by staff, then council should definitely know.

“They’re laws that we helped create, we should absolutely be notified of that,” Hurtak said.

In regards to the ongoing DOJ investigation, Hurtak referenced Castor’s recent admission to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board that she could have communicated better during her first term.

“I think that’s an understatement,” Hurtak said. “Any type of investigation, we should always know about that. We speak for the citizens, and there's really no reason to keep that sort of information from us.”
In a memo from City Attorney Andrea Zelman, who works for Castor, the city legal team argued that council needs to clarify which types of investigations council would be notified about, and that some investigation information is confidential. She also suggested that an ordinance might not be the best way for council to get its way.

Zelman encouraged council to instead present a non-legally binding motion or resolution. She argued that a law pertaining specifically to the mayor notifying council of certain types of lawsuits is not appropriate.

“In addition, legislation that would regulate the actions of the mayor could not lawfully be enacted, as such legislation would violate the separation of powers in the City of Tampa,” Zelman wrote.

Councilman Bill Carlson, who presented the motion for the resolution said that city council isn’t asking for anything extreme.

“Ten days is a reasonable request to ensure transparency,” Carlson told CL. “The administration for six months hid from Council and the public that they were being investigated by the US Justice Department for civil rights abuses and they have not kept us updated for the last 13 months of the investigation. The public deserves the truth.”
Councilman Luis Viera agreed that 10 days was a reasonable amount of notice time for such investigations.

“I don't see any reason as to why we wouldn't want to know about these investigations,” Viera said. “My initial impression is that I’ll be supportive of it.”

Viera added that he’s willing to hear the city legal team out and figure out the details of how council will be notified, but added that he “didn’t see why it would be a problem at all.”

Last November, the DOJ was still looking for victims of the crime free housing program, colloquially known as “renting while Black,” to give statements about how it impacted them.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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