The tragic irony of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's latest calls for transparency

It’s rich for this mayor to talk about transparency.

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click to enlarge One speaker during recent public comment told council that, “Whoever wrote that Op-Ed for the mayor was skilled in Orwellian doublespeak.” - Photo via Jane Castor/Facebook
Photo via Jane Castor/Facebook
One speaker during recent public comment told council that, “Whoever wrote that Op-Ed for the mayor was skilled in Orwellian doublespeak.”
Last week, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor published a column in the Tampa Bay Times. Or, should we say, she got her communications director’s old bosses to publish a tragically ironic piece explaining why she planned to veto proposed changes to the city’s charter.

The news came after Tampa City Council heard hours of public comment, and went back and forth for months, before deciding that voters should get final say on whether or not to adopt five changes to the city’s constitution.

In one thought, the mayor claimed to “believe in the right of voters to make decisions about our city government.”

But she was quick to argue that council's decision to send the changes to a vote was not “thoughtful, deliberative and transparent” enough for Tampeños.

“Our voters deserve better,” she added.

One speaker during public comment told council that, “Whoever wrote that Op-Ed for the mayor was skilled in Orwellian doublespeak.”

We’ll add that before saying ‘Voters deserve better,’ Mayor Castor should take a look at herself.

It’s rich for this mayor to talk about transparency.

She told financially-distressed voters that rent control is a bad idea, knowing full well that at one point, her campaign was more than 50% funded by those with interests in development.

It took five months of questioning for her to admit that it was she who approved Tampa’s City Center at Hanna Avenue—a project that not only jumped from $10 million to $108 million without a public bid, but also lacked participation from unions and the Black community until after it came under scrutiny.

She also waited five months to tell the public that the city’s “crime free multi-housing” effort was under federal investigation after journalists discovered that the program—colloquially known as “renting while Black”—disproportionately evicted renters of color.

And it’s rich for the mayor to suggest that concerned citizens asking their leaders to do better should wait until 2027 for the next charter review.

“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,” Castor wrote.

But so much has happened since the last charter review in 2017, and the voters want changes. In fact, one of the amendments they’ll decide on is whether to make the charter review happen every eight years instead of once a decade.

Another item voters will decide on in March is whether or not council—Tampa’s legislative branch—should have more of a say in directorial appointments. Not once in Mayor Castor’s latest Op-Ed did she mention the words “leader” or “leadership.” That should come as no surprise, however, since she’s had trouble picking them in her own administration.

At one point, Castor’s top city attorney—who refused to represent a city councilman facing a lawsuit over his use of personal email to discuss city business—was caught using her own personal cell phone to communicate with an attorney who had filed that very lawsuit.

Late last year, the mayor’s police-chief—handpicked during a secretive selection process and in spite of repeated outcry from the community which believed that someone who beat up a cop shouldn’t be tapped to lead them—was forced to resign after being caught abusing her position to get out of a traffic stop.

In her apology to the public—which came 18 days after Creative Loafing Tampa Bay requested the body cam footage of the incident—Mary O’Connor told the citizens who paid her salary that, “In hindsight, I realize how my handling of this matter could be viewed as inappropriate, but that was certainly not my intent.” One of the Times’ columnists called the former police chief’s explanation “classic passive voice, blaming others for their perception of reality.”

Mayor Castor said she had “no firm deadline for selecting the next chief but fully expects that a national search and hiring process will take several months.” Naturally, we’ve heard nothing, except for a rumor in La Gaceta that after the March election, “she will appoint her chief of staff, John Bennett, Jr.” as Tampa’s top cop.

In her own statement about the chief’s resignation, Castor didn’t even get close to apologizing to the public for her bad selection. Instead, she wrote about “disappointment” that “runs so deep” and that she believes in “second chances for people.”

The funny thing about the mayor’s latest Op-Ed is that it comes just as she’s about to get a second chance of her own.

In the March election, Castor is running against a write-in candidate who’s reported just $895 to the mayor’s $55,000. That means there’ll be no debates, advertisements or discussions that’ll force Castor to address the shortcomings of her time as Tampa’s top executive. I’d love to be the campaign manager who’ll have to do virtually nothing to get the mayor to the finish line in that race.

After she’s re-elected, there’ll only be the press, activists and concerned citizens at city hall to push back on the administration or speak truth to the power that the mayor wields. And while some council members showed grit last week by voting to override four of the mayor’s five vetoes, there might not be much of a council for those citizens to talk to anyway.
March’s election could see the ouster of city council members who’ve been the only powerful voices against the mayor's misdeeds.

Among those vying for a seat on Tampa’s legislative branch are a former cop with nearly a dozen sustained violations, a businessman whose family recently sold off a shitload of its McDonald’s properties (naturally, financial details of the deal were not disclosed), and Janet Cruz who just flamed out her her state senate seat and is the mother of Castor’s partner, Ana.

All three of those aforementioned candidates are running against city council people who’ve challenged the mayor on some of her mistakes and policy decisions—all functions of a healthy democracy.

Still, Castor decided last week that Tampa’s taxpayers and residents shouldn’t get a chance to amend their own city’s charter. Thankfully, most of council pushed back. But that might not be the case the day after the election.

In her Op-Ed, Castor wrote, “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.”

Then let them use their voices, mayor. Use your pulpit to embody the change you want to see in council. Because as you said, voters deserve better.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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