As the Florida House was approving a proposal championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran to ban so-called sanctuary cities, Bob Buckhorn was ridiculing the notion in front of an audience approximately 300 miles to the south.
At the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater Friday, Tampa’s mayor argued that there are no such entities in the state of Florida.
“There are no sanctuary cities in the state of Florida. That entire premise articulated by the Speaker is a bunch of B.S. There is no such thing,” Buckhorn declared.
“It is just a ploy to gin up rural voters vs. urban voters. It is an attack on local jurisdictions,” Buckhorn continued, adding that House Bill 9 is flat out wrong “both factually and morally.”
Buckhorn was making the comments at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club event, joined by fellow Tampa Bay-area Mayors Rick Kriseman from St. Petersburg and George Cretekos from Clearwater.
The meeting has become something of an annual tradition — a sit-down conversation with leaders from the three biggest regions of the Tampa Bay area.
A year ago, Kriseman got a bit of hot water after penning a post declaring St. Petersburg was all in as a sanctuary city, in response to Donald Trump‘s warning that he would attempt to deny federal funds to municipalities who made such a declaration.
Kriseman later clarified his position, saying that the city was philosophically a sanctuary, not literally. He added that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office makes the decision to notify federal agents of an accused criminal’s immigration status.
“My officers, that’s not what they’re trained to do,” Kriseman said. “And I don’t have the personnel to have them out spending their time doing that.”
In general, sanctuary cities are defined as localities that help shield undocumented residents from deportation, refusing to fully cooperate with detention requests from federal immigration authorities.
Cretekos agreed with his mayoral brethren, giving props to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri for the stance he’s taken on the issue.
Over the past year, Gualtieri has been working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, trying to craft a national solution with local law enforcement agencies when they come into contact with undocumented immigrants.
Through those efforts, Gualtieri believes officials with the Trump administration are “uninformed” about the problem.
If enacted, HB 9 would threaten local officials with fines and removal from office if they fail to fully comply with federal immigration authorities.
The mayors discussed other vital issues to their communities during the hourlong event. None has them more riled up than what has often been described as Tallahassee’s assault on the principle of home rule, where the GOP-led Legislature continues to enact laws taking power away from local governments, many led by Democrats.
But at Tiger Bay, the disdain transcended party lines.
“Republicans were taught in the crib that local government is the best government,” said Cretekos, a lifelong Republican who spent decades working for the late GOP Congressman Bill Young of Pinellas County.
“They must be drinking some strange water in Tallahassee.”
“They are trying to strip our ability to do anything,” Buckhorn charged, adding that it has become a national movement in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.
“Self-governance is out of the question because they’re pitting rural vs. urban voters.”
The Tampa mayor called it a foolhardy strategy since it’s urban areas that drive the economy both in Florida and nationwide.
“Why would you take those dollars away from us, when we do it a helluva lot better than they do in Tallahassee?”
“A government where one person controls everything is a dangerous government,” Kriseman added, referring to Corcoran. He labeled it “absurd” the degree the Legislature will go to take away local control, pointing to a bill that took away power from cities to regulate bike-share programs.
The event had a bit of a “Groundhog Day” vibe, especially when all three mayors all lamented once again over the lack of regional transportation options.
“Unequivocally, transportation is the Achilles’ heel of the Tampa Bay area,” Buckhorn declared. It was a line that he could have said every year since his first election in 2011.
However, it wasn’t all bad news, they said.
The mayors were generally excited about the newly reported bus rapid transit project that would run alongside Interstate 275 from Wesley Chapel to Tampa to St. Petersburg.
“It’s not what all of us aspired for, but it’s a victory,” said Buckhorn.
“We have an opportunity here to move the ball forward to take that first step, which we have got to take,” urged Kriseman.
“It’s another first step. We’ve gotta take it, whether it benefits us or not,” added Cretekos.
Regarding water, Tampa city officials may be coming closer to a plan discussed for years — purifying reclaimed water to add to the city’s drinking water supply.
However, officials with Tampa Bay Water, the regional agency, say the city’s plans raise a question of whether Tampa has the ability within its agreement to create potable water for itself.
That prompted Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard to ask Buckhorn if he was prepared to “pay off their debt to Tampa Bay Water.”
“We’re not dropping out of Tampa Bay Water,” Buckhorn replied. “We’re not blowing up Tampa Bay Water.”
Buckhorn continued that the city of Tampa dumps more than 50 million gallons of highly treated water into Hillsborough Bay, a situation the mayor feels is no longer tenable. Treating that water would be a benefit for the entire Bay area, he said.