Bob Buckhorn Archives - Page 6 of 40 - Florida Politics

Hillsborough approves filing reimbursement for complaint against Ken Hagan

In a move critics called “chilling,” the Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 on Wednesday to seek financial reimbursement from four activists who filed a failed ethics complaint against Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman.

Hagan filed a petition for fees and costs for his attorney, Mark Levine, following the Florida Commission on Ethics’ announcement last month that it found no probable cause that Hagan, Murman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn violated the state’s ethics code in their involvement with the Go Hillsborough transportation plan. The plan ultimately never made it to the 2016 ballot.

In making his case before his colleagues on Wednesday, Hagan said there was precedence for supporting his proposal, citing the BOCC’s 2015 6-1 vote for reimbursement against Joe Keel from Keel & Curley Winery after he unsuccessfully filed an ethics complaint against Commissioner Al Higginbotham 

Higginbotham quickly seconded Hagan’s motion on Wednesday.

Hagan blasted everyone involved with the complaint, attacking the citizen activists and WTSP 10 News for their coverage of his actions during the Go Hillsborough effort, which did lead to an investigation by County Sheriff David Gee and then State Attorney Mark Ober — but they concluded there had been no wrongdoing.

“This is an abuse of the system, it is wrong, and it is not good public policy,” Hagan said. “The only documents that were provided were fake news reports from Channel 10.

“I believe this issue today is such an egregious example that it crystallizes our duty and responsibility as a board to begin to create some legal guidance as to the responsibility of the complainant,” Hagan continued, adding that responsibility is otherwise burdened on the “taxpayer’s back.”

Commissioners Victor Crist, Pat Kemp and Stacy White opposed the motion.

“I don’t think this is good policy,” said White. “It doesn’t send a good message.”

The proposal was originally listed on the board’s consent agenda, meaning commissioners couldn’t have public discussion.

White made sure to pull it for debate, a move that Kemp said she appreciated.

She said that, because the Ethics Commission cannot generate their own complaints, it’s up to regular citizens to keep board members in check.

“Approving Commissioner Hagan’s request will most definitely create a chilling effect that will discourage citizens from filing complaints that they believe to be important and necessary,” said Kemp.

Before the debate, a few members of the public advised the board not to support the motion.

Activist Sharon Calvert called it “appalling” that the item was initially placed on the consent agenda and called the request “very chilling.”

“Why is there a need to punish the filers for trying to do the right thing?” Yvette Niemann asked. “That tactic will not scare us, and will only make us strong and more determined. Shame on you, Ken Hagan!”

Niemann is the wife of George Niemann, one of the four who now filed the ethics complaint and may have to pay up. The others are Charlotte Greenbarg, Shirley Wood and Lela Lillyquist.

Darden Rice, Yolie Capin talk regionalism during Cafe Con Tampa

In her just-concluded re-election bid to the St. Petersburg City Council District 2 seat, Darden Rice received the backing of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, an endorsement of which she’s very proud.

She’s also the niece of former Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice.

Rice mentioned those facts, among others, to an audience at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange where she appeared with Tampa City Council Chair Yolie Capin. The two local city council chairs were at the hourlong Cafe Con Tampa, which meets every Friday morning.

This week, the theme was the regional cooperation that is currently taking place between the Tampa Bay area’s two biggest cities. Both discussed the Tampa Bay area becoming a “super region”– within a “mega-region” when combined with Orlando.

Demonstrating her bona fides in supporting law enforcement, Rice talked about police shootings of people of color and how it led to the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as NFL players refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem.

“I think we’ve come to realize more and more that the power of a badge and a power of holding a gun is too much power to give to someone who’s not trained properly,” she said. “Certainly too much power to give to somebody who’s a bigot.”

It’s not just recognizing acts of hate and racism, she continued, but institutional racism is something that “we all need to be more conversant with.”

When asked her thoughts on race relations, Capin referred to the 2015 Tampa Bay Times expose of “Biking While Black,” the story of the Tampa Police Department’s disproportionate pattern of citing black cyclists, which she labeled “an embarrassment.”

Capin then congratulated the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for helping to raise the private funding required to appease Hillsborough County Commissioners last August for the removal of a Confederate monument in front of the courthouse annex.

Capin said she had recently spoken with some local business officials who noted that advocating to remove the monument “was definitely a business issue.”

“They’re realizing how important the race relationships, the whole branding of our area is to business,” Capin added.

Moving to the national scene but without naming names, Capin said that it was “sad” that “racism is acceptable. Bigotry is acceptable. And that is not acceptable in our region, and we have to let the world know.”

Capin spoke enthusiastically about a budding business relationship between Cuba’s Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay. Rice joined her, Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, and a host of other officials on a trip to the island last month.

“We’re talking transformative to our area. Thousands of jobs. It is in the process of happening,” Capin said about that alliance.

Rice talked up the two cities working together, referring to the Tampa Bay Export Alliance and, somewhat surprisingly, on auto theft, where the cities respective police departments go across the Bay to assist their counterparts during major events.

They also talked about the Cross-Bay Ferry, a project championed by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman that ran for six months in late 2016 and early 2017.

More than a year ago, Kriseman went hat in hand to the local governments of Tampa, Hillsborough County, Pinellas County and his own city council to get them each to offer $350,000 to fund the private-public partnership. Ridership increased in its last few months, but to the disappointment of some, the ferry will not be happening in 2017-2018.

As reported Friday by Caitlin Johnston in the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s lack of interest in spending taxpayer dollars on the project “complicated” matters. Rice said construction of the new Pier in downtown also was a factor in why the project won’t happen this year.

“The construction of the Pier would preclude the location of the ferry to come in, so we don’t want to have a hiccup where people get used to a ferry and then it’s gone for a year and how do get people back, but the truth is that the construction would be right at the height of the ferry usage time, so there’s that.”

Both chairs hoped that a permanent Tampa-St. Pete ferry connection would result after Hillsborough County ultimately operating a ferry from the Apollo Beach-area to MacDill Air Force Base — a project that is still seemingly long ways off regarding funding.

The possibility of the relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa was brought up by blogger Jim Bleyer, who wanted to hear from a public official other than Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan on the proposal for a stadium in Ybor City.

Neither had much to add, however.

“I think the Rays are a regional asset. I would love for them to stay in St. Pete, but if it doesn’t work I’d like for them to be able to stay in Tampa Bay and be successful,” Rice said.

“City Council has not aggressively sought out the Rays. I look forward to the plan,”  Capin said, adding, “I agree that they’re a regional asset like our airport, and I want them to stay.”

About the myriad problems with the lack of transportation options in the region, Capin appeared to take a shot at former Mayor Pam Iorio over Moving Hillsborough Forward, the transit sales tax initiative spearheaded, in part, by Iorio in 2010 that was ultimately defeated.

“It needed real leadership,” she said. “We had a mayor that was loved by everyone. It needed to be said,’ look, this good for us, this is why.’ That didn’t happen either.”

Former state legislator and state Education Commissioner Betty Castor received a hearty round of applause as she decried Tallahassee’s continuing attack on home rule. But neither local council member could truly say anything will stop that legislative trend anytime soon.

“We really have to peel it back and show the public what is the Legislature’s doing, because really it hurts the voice of our local citizens,” Rice said.

Capin referred to an ordinance recently passed the Tampa City Council about the design of cellphone towers built on public rights of way and utility poles. She said it was the only authority they still had to control them, in light of legislation easily passed this year by the Legislature.

Rice’s re-election gives her four more years to serve St. Pete, with some speculating on a mayoral run in 2021.

Term-limited from office in early 2019, Capin had been pursuing a run for Hillsborough County Commissioner next year (where she would face fellow Democrat Janet Cruz), but recently opted out of that plan. Instead, she is now chairing Tampa philanthropist David Straz‘s exploratory committee on a run for mayor.

Straz will decide early next year if he’s running in 2019, he said.

Joe Henderson: Jan Platt leaves legacy of service, integrity

As a member of the Hillsborough County Commission, Jan Platt was best known for a single word: NO! Labels like that tend to stick, but this grand lady was much, much more than that.

She fought to protect our waterways and environmentally sensitive land, and she loved to be out on the Bay with a fishing rod. She was a champion of public libraries, and one of the Tampa branch buildings is named in her honor.She was honest, at times a little cranky, but she always – ALWAYS – did what she thought was right for this community.

She was that rare public servant who said what she meant, and meant what she said.

She couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be intimidated, and she wouldn’t be swayed to vote for something because it was smart politics. Janice Kaminis Platt always spoke from a heart that was 24-carat pure.

Yes, frequently she was the leading voice of dissent as developers pushed relentlessly toward their goal of paving over every bit of green space in the county. When quick-buck artists appeared before the commissioners, they knew it was going to be a long day if Commissioner No was in her seat.

That misses the point, though. More often than not, it about what she was trying to preserve and less about what she was against.

People loved her for that.

She died last week at the age of 81. Her funeral is Friday in Tampa, and her passing triggered an outpouring of tributes.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called her “honest, ethical” and “steadfast in her leadership.”

Former Commissioner Joe Chillura told the Tampa Bay Times that he never should have run against her in a commission race because, “It was like running against Mother Teresa.”

She was never needed more than when three county commissioners were arrested in 1983 for selling their votes in exchange for bribe money.

It shook this community to its core, but I think we all knew that if Jan Platt was still on the board, we would be OK.

And we were.

That continued after she retired in 1994 following 24 years as a commissioner and four as a member of the Tampa City Council. She stayed relatively low key until a public hearing a little over years ago about a proposed 38-story residential and retail complex near the Straz Center in downtown Tampa.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn was pushing hard for approval, and things appeared to be going swimmingly until Platt made a surprise appearance at the microphone and spoke forcefully against the project.

She succeeded in getting the project delayed, because people figured if she was against it they probably should take another look. It was ultimately approved, but the delay infuriated Buckhorn and he had some pointed things to say to me later about her interference in his plans.

Buckhorn, by the way, got over it and in a statement on Twitter noted, “During a difficult time in County government, her integrity shined brightly.”

Several months after my column on that exchange appeared in The Tampa Tribune, I ran across Jan at a reception on Davis Islands. I hadn’t spoken with her since that column ran, and Buckhorn’s quotes were a bit personal and on the nasty side.

Still, she thanked me for the piece and said she thought it was fair and accurate.

I considered that especially high praise.

I’m not sure we’ll see anyone like her again. She was an original and a community treasure.

The measure of a life well-lived can be taken in what people say about you when you die, and the size of the footprints you leave behind.

Jan Platt’s will be hard, if not impossible, to fill.

Activist George Niemann files as write-in for Hillsborough Commission

George Niemann decided: If he can’t beat ’em, why not join ’em?

The Dover activist, who has filed at least 10 ethics complaints against Tampa and Hillsborough County officials over the past decade, will be running as a write-in candidate in the countywide open County Commission District 5 seat being vacated next year by Ken Hagan.

It makes Niemann the eighth candidate to enter the race.

A year out, the most prominent name (and leading fundraiser) is Republican Victor Crist, the District 2 Commissioner term-limited out of office next year who hopes to prolong his time on the board by running for the countywide seat.

“I know running as a write-in is a real challenge, but I’m really disgusted with having ‘career incumbents’ that serve special interests over the average citizen,” Niemann told Florida Politics in an email Wednesday. “They’re getting old sitting in their seats upon the dais, while our quality of life degrades as a result of their decisions.”

Over the years, Niemann has unquestionably been a thorn in the side of the Board of County Commissioners. But his point about “they’re getting old” is a reference to the fact that three members of the current board — Hagan, Crist and Sandy Murman — are all running for new seats next year, giving them each an additional four (and perhaps eight) more years on the board.

Hagan has served on the board since 2002; Murman and Crist since 2010.

Niemann’s campaign will have two themes: “Eight is Enough!” and “Drain Hillsborough’s Swamp!”

Niemann was a critic of the Go Hillsborough transit proposal that ultimately never made it to the voters last year. One of his ethics complaints accused Murman, Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn of steering the $1.3 million Go Hillsborough contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff, the client of PR consultant Beth Leythem. The Florida Commission on Ethics announced last month that it had found no probable cause in that complaint.

He’s also been critical of development that doesn’t pay for itself in eastern Hillsborough County.

“I’ve never tried this before, but I want to send a message that we need new faces and fresh ideas,” Niemann says. “I hope there will be a grassroots revolt, even if I don’t win.”

Niemann also says he hopes to get invited to candidate forums where he can rally support and educate voters.

In addition to Crist and Niemann, the Democrats in the race are Jae Passmore, Elvis Pigott, Mark Nash and Corey L. Reynolds.

Republicans in the race are Tim Curtis and Angel Urbina Capo.



Bob Buckhorn names Brian Dugan as Tampa Police Chief

Interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan can now drop the “interim.”

Two days ago, reports emerged that Dugan was disappointed that Mayor Bob Buckhorn wanted to conduct a national search to replace the outgoing chief, Eric Ward.

On Tuesday, Buckhorn named Dugan as the new permanent leader of the Tampa Police Department.

The mayor’s announcement comes during an intense search for the person who murdered three Seminole Heights residents over 11 days last month, and nearly two months since Dugan led the TPD as Hurricane Irma barreled through the region.

“During his 27-year career, Brian has set the gold standard for what it means to be a Tampa police officer,” Buckhorn said. “When I appointed him to interim-chief, I knew he had what it takes to lead one of the best police departments in the country.”

The mayor continued: “I have watched very closely over the last few months as Brian has demonstrated steadfast leadership through two very significant events. Each of these situations would have tested the most experienced chief and Brian passed with flying colors.”

“This department has not missed a beat since Brian was appointed. I look forward to Brian’s continued leadership as chief and the department’s continued success as one of the best departments in America.”

“I’m thankful and humbled that Mayor Buckhorn trusted me with this responsibility of leading the department,” Dugan said in a statement. “The majority of the credit should go to the men and women who work the streets. I look forward to partnering with them to build relationships with the people that we serve and protect the community.”

In more than a quarter century at the department, Dugan served as an officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major, deputy chief, and assistant chief. As assistant chief, he oversaw Special Operations, Criminal Investigations, and the Special Support Division, taking primary responsibility for the Department’s $146 million budget.

He currently serves as co-chairman of the Tampa Urban Area Security Initiative, and on the board of directors for the Police Athletic League.

Within the TPD, Dugan had worked in the Criminal Intelligence Bureau, Street Anti-Crime Unit, Quick Uniform Attack on Drugs Squad (QUAD), Internal Affairs Bureau, Mayor’s Security Detail, and as a Field Training Officer.

Dugan also oversaw TPD operations in Curtis Hixon Park in the fall of 2011 as the Occupy Tampa movement took hold.

After Ward suddenly announced in July his retirement to take a job as director of security with Tampa-based Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, Buckhorn announced a national search for best man (or woman) for the job. That included hiring a consultant to conduct the search.

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that, in an August interview, Dugan expressed disappointment that Buckhorn decided to conduct a national search. But if history was any indication, the odds were in Dugan’s favor if he impressed during the time as interim chief.

In the last 25 years, three of five Tampa police chiefs were promoted from within; a fourth (Steve Hogue) spent 23 years at TPD before taking a chief’s job in Fort Walton. Houge was then hired back and served as chief from 2003-2009.

Ward served only two years as chief, replacing Jane Castor, who is now considering a run for Tampa mayor in 2019.

Dugan is married with two children. He’ll make $171,412 as chief.

Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough commissioners cleared in ethics probe

The Florida Commission on Ethics announced Wednesday it has found no probable cause that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman violated the state’s Code of Ethics.

The commission’s investigation surrounded activities related to the Go Hillsborough effort.

Go Hillsborough was a years -in-the-making proposal that would have placed a half-cent sales tax referendum on the November 2016 ballot to pay for transportation improvements. While there was extensive work done on the proposal in 2015-2016, Hillsborough Commissioners ultimately rejected placing the issue before voters.

The official allegations as stated in the press release issued on Wednesday were that Buckhorn, Murman and Hagan each solicited or accepted in-kind campaign services based on an understanding that their official action would be influenced or that they accepted those services when they knew or should have known that the services were being given to influence them; that they corruptly misused their positions for their personal benefit or for the benefit of others; that a city or county contract was awarded to an individual while the officials had a contract with that individual; that they solicited a gift from a lobbyist or vendor of their agency; that they accepted a prohibited gift from a vendor or lobbyist with a value of more than $100; and that they failed to report a gift valued at more than $100.

In layman’s terms, the original complaint alleged that Buckhorn, Hagan and Murman helped to steer a $1.3 million transportation outreach contract to Parsons Brinkerhoff, the contractor which had already been on a preselected list of vendors okayed to do business with Hillsborough County. Critics alleged that the Policy Leadership group chose Parsons because of lobbying behind the scenes down by public relations consultant Beth Leytham, a friend to all three lawmakers. Parsons hired Leytham as a subcontractor on the Go Hillsborough project for $187,000.

The Ethics Commission simply stated that there was no probable cause, without any further editorializing.

The Board of County Commissioners originally chose Sheriff David Gee to investigate the allegations in the fall of 2015. His department produced a 1,954 page report in March of 2016 that cleared everyone accused of any violations. Former State Attorney Mark Ober did contact Gee after the report’s releaser recommending that Murman attend public records training for “inadvertent” violations of the state law – a noncriminal offense.  He also wrote that several other commissioners failed to preserve public records.

The Board of County Commissioners twice voted 4-3 in public meetings last year to decline to put the Go Hillsborough measure on the ballot.

Tampa Bay’s Amazon pitch features LGBT leader Nadine Smith, Rowdies players

Former Raymond James Board Chair and CEO Tom James, Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith and two Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer players are featured in a two-minute, forty-second video intended to woo Amazon to the Tampa Bay-area for its second headquarters.

Dozens of cities across the country had a Thursday deadline to submit their bid to land the headquarters, where the Seattle-based company has promised to invest $5 billion and add up to 50,000 jobs. Amazon received 238 proposals in all.

The local effort has been led by the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.

Raymond James is one of five Fortune 500 corporations in the Tampa Bay area. The St. Pete based financial services firm brought in more than $5.5 billion in 2016.

Smith serves as executive director of Equality Florida, the state’s leading LGBTQ organization. She hailed the region as one of the best places in the country, noting a 100 percent rating for St. Petersburg from the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Index.

Rowdies midfielders Marcel Shäfer and Justin Chavez also make an appearance, emphasizing the community’s family friendliness.

Another ad, also produced by the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, featured Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman selling regionalism, and the power of what the two individual cities could bring to Jeff Bezos empire.

All told, Amazon says they received 238 proposals from communities in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

‘Everyone is a suspect’ in Seminole Heights killings, Tampa Police Chief says

Interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan admits that, at least publicly, his department doesn’t have much of a clue who shot and killed three people within a mile and a half of each other in Southeast Seminole Heights over the past two weeks.

“We don’t know who this person is. That’s the reality,” the chief told an overflow crowd of concerned citizens jammed into the Edison Elementary School auditorium Monday night.

The first victim, 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell, was shot and killed October 9 only a few hundred feet from where the third victim, 20-year-old Anthony Naiboa died last Thursday. A second victim, Monica Caridad Hoffa, was killed October 11, shot less than half a mile from the other two murders.

Dugan chilled the audience when he said “everyone is a suspect” and there was a “very good likelihood that someone in this room knows” the killer.

“Somebody knows something, but they don’t realize it.”

But the Chief wasn’t implicating anyone. Instead, he was saying they actually might have seen something that they didn’t think was relevant, but very well could be significant as investigators attempt to find the person (or persons) who killed these young people in a relatively small section of Tampa.

“This pains me to tell you that if you’re out there walking alone, you’re either a suspect or a potential victim,” Dugan added.

Everyone in the neighborhood needs to pay attention to anything that seems out of the ordinary, Dugan stressed. Commenting on modern society, he decried how people like to shut themselves off from their community, turn on Netflix or stare into smartphones.

Preferably, he wants citizens to be more social and keep their porch lights on at night.

“Your instinct is to stay inside. I’m asking you to do the opposite.”

In reaction to the killings, the TPD increased its presence in the neighborhoods, particularly in mornings and evenings.

Also, Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of $25,000 to anyone who can help authorities find the killer.

Stan Lasater, the outgoing president of the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association, hopes the group will increase that reward to inspire more people to focus on who might be a suspect.

“This is personal, and they’re not going to stop until they catch this guy,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said about the TPD, as more than a dozen uniformed officers were in attendance at the Edison Elementary meeting.

Buckhorn said this issue was between the community and the forces of evil and darkness, vowing that “goodness,” not evil, will come out on top. TPD will “will hunt this son of a bitch down,” the mayor promised.

On Monday, Code Enforcement officers checked vacant homes and other potential hiding spots for the killer, while city crews worked to clear vacant lots and alleys, also to reduce possible hiding places.

In the hunt, TPD is not working in a silo. Assisting local law enforcement are officials with the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and even the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Dugan said he had been continuously asked if there’s a serial killer loose in Southeast Seminole Heights.

He is purposely avoiding answering that question.

“Let’s not label and stereotypes box out our vision, and we miss what’s right in front of us,” Dugan said, adding that he has never stated a single person was responsible for the killings.

TPD released one video, but Dugan pointed out that it was just of a person of interest; the Department has no idea who that person is, and he could be completely innocent.

After speaking for 20 minutes, the chief and mayor fielded questions from the crowd for about a half-hour.

One man asked that, with Halloween just eight days away, should there be any trick or treaters out and about next week.

That night, there will be a substantial TPD presence, Dugan said, and he will personally patrol the neighborhood.

“Everyone in the police department will be out there.”

interim Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister

Chad Chronister boasts bipartisan backing in fundraiser invite

Chad Chronister is looking to shed the “interim” tag in front of his title as Hillsborough County Sheriff next year, and a peek at the host committee he’s wrangled for his Oct. 25 campaign kickoff shows his support is both far reaching and bipartisan.

Chronister has been with the office since 1992 and was a colonel before the retirement of longtime lawman David Gee earlier this year, which vaulted him into the leadership role. He filed for election to the office a day after he was sworn in as interim sheriff.

The run for sheriff is Chronister’s first campaign, though the invite for his upcoming fundraiser has more names than many seasoned politicians – it fills up nearly a whole page of legal size paper and includes well over 200 names.

Among his supporters are both sides of the courtroom in State Attorney Andrew Warren and Hillsborough County Public Defender Julie Holt.

Chronister, a Republican, also has politicians from both sides of the political spectrum flocking to support his fledgling campaign.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, and former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, the current favorite to succeed him, also made the list alongside House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sens. Dana Young and Tom Lee as well as County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, all Republicans.

The throng of supporters will gather at The Italian Club at 1731 E 7th Ave. in Ybor City to get the sitting sheriff’s campaign off the ground. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. and runs for two hours.

So far, Chronister’s only competition is no-party candidate Juan Rivera. The election will be held in November 2018.

The full invitation is below.

Hillsborough NAACP head Yvette Lewis takes on the establishment at Cafe Con Tampa

In one of the highest profile appearances since her election in July as chair the Hillsborough County NAACP, Yvette Lewis took a shot at some of the most prominent establishment names in Tampa.

During Friday’s Cafe Con Tampa at the Oxford Exchange, Lewis shared brutally honest thoughts on several topics: A lack of diversity at the University of South Florida, issues with former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor‘s policies and her failure to connect with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

For seven years, Lewis served as chair of the political action committee for the longtime civil rights organization, before moving up to lead the group this summer. Through that, she had become very familiar with the issues roiling the black community in Tampa and Hillsborough County over the past decade.

On example was two years ago, when the NAACP was prominent in calling for the formation of a citizens review board to review the Tampa Police Department’s policies and procedures following the Tampa Bay Times “biking while black” expose in the spring of 2015.

The Times reported the TPD had written more bike tickets from 2012-2014 than police departments in St. Petersburg, Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando combined, and that eight of 10 were black. A subsequent review in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice surmised that the policy was neither discriminatory nor effective.

“We have never received an apology from the Tampa Police Department,” Lewis said at the well-attended breakfast meeting.

At the time, Jane Castor led the TPB. Castor has already formed a political action committee as she eyes a run for Tampa Mayor in 2019. But if she does run, the “biking while black” story will be something that she will have to address.

“She knew what she was doing,” Lewis said. “She was targeting African-American people on bicycles.”

There are also significant concerns in Tampa’s black community about representation on the City Council.

For decades, the District 5 seat, currently held by Frank Reddick, has been considered the Council’s “black seat,” but there is concern that Tampa voting maps will change as county officials start the process of redistricting ahead of the 2019 city elections.

Hillsborough County planning officials say that since the last redistricting process, the African-American population in district 5 has already dropped from 61 percent to 53.8 percent. Lewis and other members of the black community fear if the Channelside district is included in the zone, there will be no African-American representation on Council.

“If someone decides to run for that district in Channelside, our voice has been silenced, and it is gone,” she intoned dramatically.

While former Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena agreed with Lewis about the importance of black elected officials on the council, she said it was as essential to elect like-minded lawmakers.

“You need four votes to make anything happen,” she said about getting anything passed on the seven-member board. Saul-Sena also noted that it was crucial to get people out to vote and that East Tampa has the worst voting percentage of any part of the city.

“You need four votes to make anything happen,” Saul-Sena said about getting anything passed on the seven-member board. It was important to get people out to vote, she added, saying that East Tampa has the worst voting percentage of any part of the city.

The voting percentage is weak because you haven’t given people a reason to vote, Lewis shot back.

But it was USF — the institution as well as its main players — receiving Lewis’s greatest wrath Friday.

Joanne Sullivan, community relations director for USF Health, said some members of the NAACP spoke at the USF Board of Trustee’s meeting Thursday. They had “made a very eloquent statement about what they are hoping to see at USF,” she said, adding: “On behalf of USF, let me just say that your voice has been heard, and there are interests at making things better.”

If that was intended to mollify Lewis, it didn’t work.

“What about the students who look like me who have not received their degree who have been told, you should not be in school? What about the faculty … that don’t look like me?” she said about professors with tenure at the university.

“USF has a long way to go. USF has been an island out to their own, and they figured they didn’t need the African American people.”

A lack of diversity isn’t a new topic at the north Tampa campus. Two years ago, students rallied for diversity, saying the university had a problem.

Lewis said that black members of the faculty had been so intimidated to meet with her organization, they refused to come to their office, instead meeting at a nearby McDonald’s on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

“You tell Dr. [RalphWilcox, you tell Judy Genshaft that she needs to come and have a sit-down conversation with the NAACP ASAP,” she said to Sullivan, naming those officials who had declined to meet with the group.

In fact, lots of people refused to meet with Lewis and her group, after giving lip service about how much they care about the organization.she’s tired of it.

And she’s tired of it.

That includes Tampa’s mayor, who noticeably got cross-eyed with the NAACP during the controversy over the call for a police citizens’ review board in 2015. The NAACP, the ACLU, and several other organizations wanted it, but Buckhorn fought against it before he ultimately agreed to form the committee.

Many of those same activists have never been happy with how it was formed or the powers it had.

“We’re supposed to have yearly meetings with the mayor that has been requested, many times,” she said. “As of right now, we have been denied a meeting with the mayor. [The] same mayor that comes and visits all the old African-American churches … but he refused to meet with the NAACP.”

Buckhorn spokesperson Ashley Bauman responded that there is no regular scheduled yearly meeting and there has never been.

“He would go periodically at the request of Carolyn Collins, the former president of the local branch, if she requested but it was not a standing event,” Bauman told Florida Politics. “He has never heard from the current president and to the best of his knowledge she has never interacted with our office.”

Bauman went on to say that the city has supported the organization through funding for its ACT-SO youth programming; the mayor did so again for the most recently approved budget. ACT-SO is the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, a yearlong NAACP achievement program formed to recruit and encourage academic and cultural achievement among African-American high schoolers.

Lewis says that the past NAACP president, Benny Smalls, did call to request a meeting and received no response

“That’s his choice,” Lewis told the crowd about her lack of communications with Buckhorn. “He’s missing out on a good thing because I could give him a good conversation because I’m a beautiful black woman,” she said as the audience cheered.


Show Buttons
Hide Buttons