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Tampa council members override Mayor Jane Castor's vetoes to change the city charter

Tampa City Council members seated during a meeting
City Of Tampa Television
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Tampa's next police chief may have to go through increased scrutiny by city council members. That's one of four proposed amendments that are headed back before voters in March after the council Thursday overturned vetoes by Mayor Jane Castor.

The political tug of war was on full display during Thursday's meeting, when council members overrode four of five amendments to the city charter.

Tampa's next police chief may have to go through increased scrutiny by city council members.

That's one of four proposed amendments that are headed back before voters in March after the council Thursday overturned vetoes by Mayor Jane Castor.

The proposed amendments to the city charter were vetoed Wednesday by Castor. It was the first veto issued by a Tampa mayor since 1990.

One amendment would require department heads to be approved by council members and would limit how long they could serve as "interim" employees. That's in response to Castor choosing Mary O'Connor as police chief, which was opposed by several council members. O'Connor resigned in December amid controversy.

Another amendment would prohibit council members from serving more than four consecutive terms. And the fourth would shorten the time between charter reviews.

Council member Lynn Hurtak says voters should get to decide on these issues.

"The public is saying they want to vote. They don't want us to do it — they want to do it," Hurtak said. "And so I am absolutely going to vote to override these and put them on the ballot like the public wanted."

Councilman Bill Carlson — a frequent critic of Castor — said the council should be more than a rubber stamp for the mayor.

"How does setting term limits for city council disrupt the strong mayor form of government?" Carlson asked. "It doesn't. They just want to win. It's just about politics. It's about a checklist of who won and who lost."

Castor, who spoke from the National Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., said she was not surprised at the vote.

"I don't disagree with amending the charter, but it has to be a thoughtful process, understanding the financial implications, and also has to include the public in there," Castor said.

"The process was deeply flawed, to present close to 40 amendments — right after we had had a Charter Review Committee — go through very thoughtfully through the charter, and make 18 changes," Castor said. "And, four out of those seven council members were on that charter review committee previously, and four out of the five suggested changes were brought up during that process, and were either voted down or just didn't get any air.

"And the haphazard process. During the first reading, they changed three of the five amendments," Castor said. "It has to be a thoughtful process, understanding the financial implications, and also has to include the public in there, there really was no public input in those those charter amendments."

The public will get their chance to vote on the amendments — as well as for the mayor and council members — during city elections on March 7.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.