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Orlando Gudes steps down as Tampa City Council chairman amid sexual harassment accusations

Orlando Gudes announcing his resigning of the chairmanship
City of Tampa
Orlando Gudes announces his resigning of the chairmanship

Gudes also told the council members that he has no intention of resigning.

Orlando Gudes announced Thursday that he is stepping down as chairman of the Tampa City Council but will remain on the council amid allegations of sexual harassment.

Speaking at the start of Thursday's regularly scheduled council meeting, Gudes said he would step aside and yield his chair role to Guido Maniscalco.

"At this time, I'd like to put a motion on the floor that I step down as the chairman of the city council and Mr. Maniscalco be the elected chair of the council," Gudes said. "I will not be resigning, but I'll step down as the chair at this time."

City Council member Bill Carlson spoke up after his announcement.

"The comments described in the report are obviously not acceptable," Carlson said. "Also, I feel terrible for the claimant and the claimant's family, who have not only had to endure the incidents described, but now also the intense media coverage."

Gudes told the council members that he has no intention of resigning.

"Everyone has their day and their day to be vindicated," he said. "I'm waiting for that day, that day will happen."

Earlier this week, the city announced its human resources department had received 19 specific allegations last August by a woman who Gudes said he considered a longtime friend before hiring her.

Gudes' attorney denied the allegations and said Gudes apologized, acknowledging some of his comments were inappropriate.

Tampa officials say the allegations of sexual harassment are credible.

According to a Monday release from the city of Tampa, the allegations addressed 19 specific accusations presented to the city's HR department last August by a woman who Gudes said he considered a longtime friend before hiring her.

They did not include sexual advances, but said Gudes made crude sexual statements and gestures, as well as inappropriate comments about multiple women.

Thomas Gonzalez, a counsel for the city's HR department, presented the findings and his attorney.

Gudes' attorney denied the allegations in the release. He said Gudes apologized, and acknowledged some of his comments were inappropriate.

The city hired Trenam Law to investigate the allegations and interviewed 20 witnesses — including Gudes. It said 18 of those 19 allegations appeared more likely than not to have occurred.

“It is my conclusion that the claimant has provided evidence demonstrating that she suffered harassment based on her sex,” Gonzalez wrote, following the investigation.

The city has no authority to take action against an elected official like Gudes. But in a statement, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said he would be fired if he were a city employee.

"Since Orlando Gudes is an elected official, I have no authority over him," Castor's statement read. "However, if he were a city employee, he would be fired over these credible and corroborated sexual harassment revelations.

"I know from many years in law enforcement that it takes a great deal of courage for a victim to make harassment and hostile work environment allegations against any supervisor, let alone one as powerful as a city council chairman.”

According to the release, action the employee can take include filing a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Florida Commission on Human Relations. The city must then respond to the complaint or settle.

Trenam Law provides financial support to WUSF Public Media.

I wasn't always a morning person. After spending years as a nighttime sports copy editor and page designer, I made the move to digital editing in 2000. Turns out, it was one of the best moves I've ever made.
Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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