A move to rezone portions of a Tampa cemetery dedicated to carnival and circus workers played a role in killing the City Council career of John Dingfelder, according to documents from the city of Tampa.
On Monday, Dingfelder delivered his resignation as part of a settlement agreement between him and development consultant Stephen Michelini over a public records lawsuit. Last month, Michelini, through his attorney, Ethan Loeb, submitted an ethics complaint against Dingfelder to the city’s legal team. Dingfelder was accused of violating Florida’s Sunshine Laws and using his position on the City Council to curry favor.
In response, City Attorney Gina Grimes and staff reviewed hundreds of Dingfelder’s text messages and emails.
“We discovered numerous emails and text messages to and from you which create issues with respect to the City of Tampa Ethics Code and/or the State Ethics Code,” Grimes wrote to Dingfelder Friday morning. “Further evaluation and review of the Ethics Issues is necessary.”
Dingfelder was sent a list of 18 potential ethics violations between February and September of 2021. The majority of them related to the Showman’s Rest Cemetery. The Showman’s Association was looking to sell the 50-year-old Tampa Heights cemetery to Skyline 41 Investments. Dingfelder was the listed real estate agent. But Skyline President Steven Eshkenazi was at the same time looking to rezone a portion of the cemetery along North Boulevard to build 15 homes.
Florida statute prohibits “conflicting employment or contractual relationships” and city code prohibits “representation of private persons before any unit of government of which you are a member,” Grimes told Dingfelder in her letter. She also identified eight instances in which he potentially violated both.
In an April message, Dingfelder recommended two attorneys to Eshkenazi for representation. One, Tyler Hudson, wound up representing Eshkenazi. Dingfelder communicated with Hudson about the project as the land use process worked through the Planning Commission. Dingfelder also had multiple communication with staff regarding issues with the property and a potential new sale. Eshkenazi’s proposed land use change was ultimately abandoned.
In one instance, he asked Alex Awad, a Tampa stormwater engineer, to meet at the property to discuss sewage and wetland issues. He told Awad he had “his realtor hat on,” city documents show.
Grimes attempted to schedule a meeting with Dingfelder for the following week to discuss the matter, but within hours, she received another letter from Loeb. This one stating Dingfelder had agreed to resign as a part of a settlement in the suit. Loeb also said he was withdrawing the ethics complaint.
Part of the agreement also included Dingfelder writing a letter of apology to Michelini and prohibiting him from discussing the suit. He’s also not allowed to run for another seat on the City Council or Mayor for five years. He’s also prevented from being appointed to any city board with land use or zoning authority for the same period.
Dingfelder couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
March 15, 2022 at 7:09 pm
There is no such thing as a private email. What were these people thinking? And it was all over not much of anything.
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