TAMPA — In the second round of voting in Tuesday’s special meeting, Lynn Hurtak received four votes of her soon-to-be colleagues, making her the newest member of City Council.
Hurtak, 44, an Old Seminole Heights council member, told reporters after the vote that she is a “deeply ethical” person who will bring a wealth of city board experience to the job.
“Council knows me. I’ve come in front of them to speak. I’ve sat with them on other boards and commissions. The council thought highly enough of me that one of them recommended me for the Variance Review Board,” Hurtak said, explaining to reporters right after the vote about why she thought council members selected her. “I’m going to do the right thing. That’s just who I am. That’s how my parents raised me.”
Hurtak said her priorities are affordable housing. “That’s probably my very first one.” And she said as vice-president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, she has a track record of finding middle ground between residents and developers.
A member of the city’s Variance Review Board for the past 2 1/2 years —which reviews zoning decisions among other duties — Hurtak also served on the city’s charter review board in 2018. She is a technical editor and consultant who specializes in the developing world.
Hurtak won in the second round of voting over attorney Meredith A. Freeman to replace John Dingfelder, who resigned from Tampa City Council last month to resolve a public records lawsuit. In all, 23 candidates applied for the vacant seat.
Hurtak and Freeman tied in the first round of voting. In the second round, council members Bill Carlson, Orlando Gudes, Joseph Citro and Guido Maniscalco. Luis Viera and Charlie Miranda voted for Freeman.
Hurtak joins the city council at a extremely tense and fractious time. Dingfelder’s resignation was followed within weeks by the city finding that Gudes had created a hostile work environment for a former legislative aide.
Carlson welcomed Hurtak saying she was joining council “when it is under attack.”
Asked about Dingfelder’s forced resignation, Hurtak said she “wondered why city attorney’s did not help him with that,” referring to City Attorney Gina Grimes’s decision not to defend Dingfelder, forcing him to spend his own money for his legal defense.
“I don’t think any person who is elected or appointed to public office should have to use their own money if they did something in their seat to have to represent themselves or pay for their own representation,” she said.
Hurtak said she hadn’t fully reviewed the controversy surrounding Gudes, who last week the city found to have created a hostile work environment. Gudes has said he won’t resign despite calls for him to do so by Viera and Citro. Mayor Jane Castor has said she would remove him from office if she could.
Ethan Loeb, the attorney who represented a local business consultant who sued Dingfelder, now represents Gudes’s former aide. Loeb has filed a legal action and public record requests seeking to establish that Carlson is in some way connected to a Facebook account that has been critical of city officials and others.
Carlson has told the Tampa Bay Times he had nothing to do with the account and doesn’t know “James Reed,” the name on the Facebook page. But he has said he has been targeted by the administration for being an occasional critic of the mayor.
Hurtak said she hopes to lower the temperature at City Hall.
“I’m a calming presence. You’ll see that from me on the board,” said Hurtak, a former elementary school teacher. “I’m going to be very even keeled.”
Hurtak’s selection made her the first woman on City Council since the city’s 2019 elections where voters elected an all-male council. She said her perspective as a woman matters. Voters selected the all-male council, she said, but it’s time for a change.
“I think is a good time to right that,” she said.
After the vote, council members congratulated Hurtak.
“Your clearly the most qualified person who applied,” said Maniscalco, the chairperson.
Many of the nearly two dozen candidates said it was important for the council to be more diverse. Several speakers, including Freeman, said the perspectives of women, Black people and members of the LGBTQ community needed to be represented on the city’s legislative body.
“My 10-year son needs to see more people who look like me in the halls of power,” Freeman, who is Black, said during her two-minute presentation to council members.
Hurtak will be sworn in Thursday at the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting. She said she plans to run for reelection for the seat next year.