WUSF Public Media – WUSF 89.7 | By Lily Theisen
Published April 6, 2022 at 7:54 PM EDT
In response to recent controversies involving two City Council members, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor addressed plans to increase transparency and accountability within City Hall.
The controversy began last month after a councilman John Dingfelder, resigned as part of a lawsuit settlement agreement. The lawsuit accused him of using his public office to his benefit, as well as breaking public records and ethics laws.
Last week, the problems continued with harassment allegations against Orlando Gudes. He resigned his chairmanship after an investigation found evidence that he created an uncomfortable work environment for a woman who Gudes said he considered a longtime friend before hiring her.
Although Gudes stepped down as chair, he remains on the council. Castor said last week that she would have fired him if he were a city employee as opposed to an elected official.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Castor said the incidents regarding the city councilmen were not caused by the city of Tampa and do not reflect the majority of the City Council.
“I want to be very clear here,” Castor said. “These incidents, these scandals were the work of John Dingfelder and Orlando Gudes.”
But she said the situation provides an opportunity to remind city staff about the importance of transparency, especially when dealing with public records.
“It has always been incumbent upon every city employee to keep and respond to public records, regardless of how they’re generated,” Castor said.
To make responses to public records requests more efficient, the city plans to use a new portal, GovQA, and implement software to more easily preserve records from employees’ work phones.
Castor also said the city will ramp up refresher classes for employees when it comes to public records and Florida’s Sunshine Law.
“There should be no uncertainty about city employees and elected officials’ obligation to maintain and produce records when asked by the public,” she said.
Both Gudes and Dingfelder, as well as council member Bill Carlson, responded after the conference.
The Tampa Bay Times reports Carlson accused Castor and her administration of targeting council members who disagree with her politically.
“This is a divisive, terrible environment,” said Carlson. “It’s not being caused by City Council. Everybody’s asking what is the problem with City Council? It’s not the problem of City Council. It’s a problem with the mayor’s office, that attacks City Council constantly. They’re constantly leaking information. They’re constantly attacking us. They need to stop.”
“I don’t think people need to be targeted the way it’s been happening the last few months,” Gudes said. “It’s disheartening.”
In addition to the emphasis on public records transparency, Castor said she will ask the city Ethics Commission to review current standards when it comes to standards and requirements for lobbyist disclosures and registrations, as well as conflict of interest disclosure requirements for elected city officials.
“The residents of Tampa deserve the most transparent and ethical government possible so we can get back to doing the business of the people and serving our residents,” Castor said.