TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa City Council will hold a meeting via telephone on Tuesday to receive a briefing on the COVID-19 virus and other city business from John Bennett, Mayor Jane Castor’s chief-of-staff.
- Council members say they are eager to get back to business
- Tuesday's meeting will be first since March 12 meeting was canceled
- CORONAVIRUS LIVE UPDATES: In the Tampa Bay area
It will be their first time meeting as a collective body since Council Chair Luis Viera cancelled their evening meeting on March 12 and said that they wouldn’t reconvene until April 16.
Tuesday’s meeting takes place more than a week after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that suspends a Florida law that requires a local government body needs to meet at a specific public place, a move that Viera calls “a major game changer.”
“We’re looking at seeing how we can meet as a council to take votes, because we may not take votes without public comment,” Viera said on Friday, adding that he and other councilmembers hope to get some guidance from Bennett and the city’s legal staff on whether they can hold land-use meetings and other public hearings electronically.
“Those are hearings that are quasi-judicial that are subject potentially to an even higher standard. Therefore that is an issue not just of feasibility technologically but feasibility also legally with regards to issues of due process,” said Viera.
City Councilman Guido Maniscalco says he is looking for guidance from administration officials about the legality of holding land-use meetings electronically, saying he fears it could open up a whole uncharted territory for potential litigation. “That’s my concern. The (land-use) attorneys are already ready to jump on us one way or another,” Maniscalso says.
Some council members say that they can’t wait to get back to business.
“The public has the expectation that we would keep the city operating while providing information and a forum for public feedback,” says Councilman Bill Carlson. “We also need to keep the economy moving by reviewing land use issues where developers are trying to meet critical deadlines.”
Hillsborough County’s “Safer in Place” order that went into effect over the weekend calls for the closing of all non-essential businesses that are unable to maintain the required six feet physical distance between people.
Among those businesses that shut down include Councilman Joe Citro’s hair salon in West Tampa.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on the job,” Citro says, adding that he’s been going into his office most days to stay in touch with constituents often over the past couple of weeks.
“I have been in touch with Chief (John) Bennett, and I have asked him a few questions, especially as it relates to the CRA (the council operates as the Community Redevelopment Agency). “After tomorrow we’re going to have a heckuva lot more knowledge on what we’re going to be able to do, how we’ll be able to do it, and I’m hoping that legal and the administration and our council can come up with some sort of compromise where yes, we can get back to business as usual,” he says.
Tuesday’s electronic meeting is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.