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Castor announces steps to curb ‘scandals’ of Tampa council members

TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor said Wednesday that the recent resignation of one former council member and hostile workplace findings against another were not the fault of her administration.

“I want to be very clear these incidents were not caused by the city of Tampa. These incidents, these scandals were the work of John Dingfelder and Orlando Gudes,” Castor said at a news conference outside City Hall.

After Castor left, a third City Council member, Bill Carlson, disputed her assertion, saying that the mayor and her administration have targeted political opponents on the council.

At her news conference, Castor announced a series of “transparency and accountability” measures, some of them plainly directed at City Council members. They include what she described as improved lobbyist registration and disclosure requirements, conflict of interest reporting by elected city officials and modernizing Tampa’s system for sharing public records.

Castor made clear she was taking those steps in response to the conduct of Dingfelder and Gudes.

Dingfelder stepped down from the City Council last month to settle a lawsuit brought against him by a development consultant who accused him of breaking public records laws. Gudes remains on the board, but stepped down last week from his post as chairperson after a report concluded he created a hostile workplace for his former legislative aide.

“These recent violations suggest that we can and should do more to improve transparency and accountability at City Hall. We must never stop working to improve the public trust in city government. And the public should never have even a shadow of a doubt that their public officials are for the public good,” Castor said.

Both council members have previously accused Castor of retaliating against them for occasionally voting against her. On Wednesday, both responded to Castor’s comments.

“I don’t think people need to be targeted the way it’s been happening the last few months,” Gudes said. “It’s disheartening.”

He has admitted making inappropriate comments in front of his aide but has denied creating a hostile workplace.

Dingfelder is barred from discussing why he left the City Council due to the legal settlement. But he pointed to Castor’s comments and a recent Creative Loafing story as evidence of hypocritical behavior.

The story revealed, and Castor confirmed, that city attorney Gina Grimes used her personal cellphone to communicate with the lawyer and local business consultant who were suing Dingfelder. In October, Grimes had cited Dingfelder’s personal cellphone use for city business as part of her reasoning why the city wouldn’t defend Dingfelder in the public records lawsuit.

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“I see tremendous hypocrisy. I served the city in various capacities for 30 years with an unblemished record,” Dingfelder said.

And after Castor’s news conference Wednesday, Carlson appeared outside City Hall to say the recent turmoil there had been caused by the mayor.

“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.

“All the City Council members who vote against the mayor are attacked constantly. It’s ridiculous,” he said.

Castor had left before Carlson made his remarks. Her spokesman Adam Smith said, “The City Council is not being attacked. You heard what the mayor said. These were isolated incidents.”

During her news conference, Castor accused “some in the media” of “revictimizing” the former aide.

A report released last week based on an investigation and review by private lawyers hired by the city concluded that Gudes had repeatedly subjected the aide to crude, sexist remarks. He also made derogatory comments about the mayor’s sexuality, according to the report.

Castor specified Wednesday that she was referring to a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, whom she said called the aide in advance of the report’s release to ask her questions about it.

A Times reporter had contacted the former aide after Gudes confirmed he was the subject of an internal investigation by the city. His questions did not immediately result in a story. It is routine for reporters to seek comment from principal parties involved in a complaint or dispute.

The Times has not publicly identified the employee due to the nature of the allegations. She now works in a different city department.

Carlson said it was in fact the Castor administration who had caused harm to the former aide. While she was not named in the report, her title was disclosed. Because she was Gudes’ only employee, that detail effectively identified her, which could have been avoided.

“The administration, the mayor and her staff revictimized the claimant,” said Carlson, referring to the city’s March 28 release of its findings about Gudes and Castor’s remarks on Wednesday.

Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson said Wednesday that Mayor Jane Castor's administration attacked any council member who opposed her.
Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson said Wednesday that Mayor Jane Castor’s administration attacked any council member who opposed her. [ Charlie Frago ]