Joe Henderson: David Straz needs to learn the rules of being Mayor

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The people’s business is not a private enterprise.

David Straz recently said he had information about “graft and corruption” within the city of Tampa. He wants to be the city’s next mayor, so if he was looking for attention, he got it.

The only problem is, Straz wasn’t very forthcoming about how he knew that. He told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board he had received a 5-page, typed, single-spaced letter alleging those issues, but he had no immediate plans to share it with proper authorities.

Well, there was a flurry of news late Monday afternoon that culminated with the release of the letter, except this one was sent to City Council member Harry Cohen – who also is running for Mayor.

How the two men handled this situation is a study in judgment. That’s the point of this whole debate.

The letter is filled with several pages of disturbing allegations. Cohen did the right thing by sending it to the Mayor’s office, where these charges will be investigated.

“In a 7-page, single-spaced letter, there’s a lot in there,” Cohen told Florida Politics. “Most of it doesn’t fall under graft and corruption. It’s more under favoritism and racism.”

Throw “hostile work environment” in there too.

By the way, notice the difference between a “5-page letter” or “7-page letter?”

As an elected official, Cohen is bound by Florida’s Sunshine Laws. As a private citizen, Straz is not. But Straz wants to be mayor, and that demands transparency. He better get used to it because the law is kind of specific.

That’s not how he played this though.

Straz dropped the allegation of corruption without corroboration, other than saying he had a letter he hadn’t turned over to authorities. A spokesman later said that if Straz is elected, then he will investigate.

That dog don’t hunt, as wise people once said.

The allegations in the letter are disturbing. As Cohen said though, “At least once a month, or every two months, we get a letter like that at City Council. We bounce it to the right people to investigate. The key is to know the proper channels.”

The letter, signed by a person named James Clark, alleges he was paid less than other supervisors in the Tampa Solid Waste Department. In the letter, he said, “I was paid less than other supervisors.”

He also alleged hearing racial comments and said he was excluded from department social events. Clark also charged there was favoritism in hiring. We tried to reach him but were unsuccessful.

This is serious stuff. The city has faced sexual harassment or discrimination allegations before, and a jury awarded Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic nearly $250,000 after finding she was discriminated against during pregnancy and then faced retaliation when she complained.

It’s not the kind of thing where a leading candidate says he’ll look into it later.

These latest charges are only allegations at this time, though. If merited, this could land on the new Mayor’s plate early in their administration.

That’s an issue on a parallel track, though.

David Straz is a serious candidate for mayor.

But he had better learn something quickly. The people’s business is not a private enterprise. You don’t just toss allegations out there, then refuse to back it up. You don’t take a single letter as evidence of “graft and corruption.”

That’s what he did here. It was a beginner’s blunder.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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