Tampa City Council members challenged at HOPE assembly

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Councilman Harry Cohen responded, "Maybe," saying he would return to HOPE after he had done research to see if such an ordinance would be a drag for companies the city is trying to recruit to do business inside Tampa.

Councilwoman Lisa Montelione was not ready to support the proposal as written, but said she did fully support "the spirit" behind it .

Montelione said the tax incentives that the city has given to businesses are established by Tallahassee, and therefore HOPE might need to go beyond Tampa and up to the capitol to get such a law changed.
"I'm not an expert in human resources law. I don't know what can and cannot be done under state and federal law, so I would still want to do research." (This comment elicited murmurs from some in the audience that she wouldn't support it.)

(Montelione said after the meeting that the proposal in her hand was not exactly what she had gone over with HOPE officials inside her office. "I differentiated with what I was supporting and what was written in the ordinance," she said.)

Frank Reddick was an enthusiastic supporter, but said it was up to the crowd to persuade other members of Council as well as Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was listed on the agenda but did not appear at the meeting.

Two other questions were asked of the lawmakers: Would they support delaying credit and background checks of employees pre-screened by HOPE until those applicants are given job interviews? And would they agree to return to HOPE? On both of those questions, the council members easily agreed.

But Montelione said it wasn't anything said at the meeting that had persuaded her to change her mind about that issue, saying that her fiance's company had been hiring ex-felons since he began his company 15 years ago. "So the idea that I only supported hiring ex-offenders until tonight was a little far-reaching."

The meeting, which was run with almost military efficiency, featured four HOPE members who have been unemployed for months or years.

Marta Pearson, who attends the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa, said that over the two years and nine months that she's been unemployed, she has submitted more than 924 applications but received only six interviews. She has lost her health insurance and has $100,000 in medical bills. But with a master's degree, she's been rejected by some employers who fear she would grow bored and leave her job.

"I want the opportunity to interview," she said. "I want the opportunity to work...I want the opportunity to take the responsibility of my living expenses and my medical bills."

  • Lisa Montelione

For years, elected officials in Pinellas County have gone before members of FAST (Faith and Action for Strength Together) at their Nehemiah Action Assemblies, where they're asked to commit to proposed solutions to issues.

For as many years, the folks over at HOPE (Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality) in Hillsborough County have been doing the same thing, though not as often with elected lawmakers.

On Monday night, HOPE held a Nehemiah Action Agenda at the Mount Calvary 7th Day Adventist Church in East Tampa, with nearly 1,000 people in attendance to discuss unemployment and jobs. Three members of Tampa City Council were present; they were asked whether they would support a proposal requiring companies that receive city contracts or tax incentives to give first hiring priority to unemployed Hillsborough residents.

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