Mayor Jane Castor today announced plans to increase transparency and accountability at City Hall, including improving lobbyist registrations and disclosures, conflict of interest reporting by elected officials, and modernizing Tampa’s system for sharing public records.
The announcement comes after one City Council member resigned his seat following a lawsuit that showed he may have broken public records and ethics laws and used his public office for his personal benefit. A second council member resigned his chairmanship last week after an independent, outside investigation found evidence he created a hostile work environment.
“Those are isolated cases that do not reflect on the majority of Tampa’s City Council,” Mayor Castor said. “Tampa’s Code of Ethics is stronger than the state of Florida’s, but these recent controversies suggest the City of Tampa can do more to improve our transparency and accountability. We must never stop working to sustain and improve public trust in city government, and the public should never have even a shadow of a doubt that their public officials are working for the public good, and not their own personal benefit.”
Mayor Castor noted that the administration is in the process of modernizing its process for handling public records requests, with a new portal, GovQA, making public records responses more efficient. The city also has purchased software to capture and retain records on employees’ phones more easily.
“It has always been incumbent upon all City employees to keep and respond to public records regardless of how they were generated and properly retained,” Mayor Castor said. “Florida’s Sunshine Laws are a fundamental part of governance here. There should no uncertainty about city employees’ obligation to maintain and produce public records when asked by the public, and my administration will ramp up refresher classes for key employees to ensure no one is ignorant of the law.”
Mayor Castor is also asking the city Ethics Commission to review current ethics standards and requirements for lobbyist disclosures and registrations, as well as ethics enforcement processes and conflict of interest disclosure requirements of all elected city officials.
“Potential conflicts of interests are inevitable, but those conflicts must be clear and transparent,” said Mayor Castor, who is working to install new kiosks for lobbyists to sign in at city facilities. “Again, the controversies that have rocked our city council in recent weeks- although they have consumed a tremendous amount of time and resources- are not a reflection of the entire council. The residents of Tampa deserve the most transparent and ethical government possible so we can get back to doing the business of the people and serving our residents.”