City Hall Humbled

For the second time this summer, City Hall has come up embarrassingly short on a public presentation. First it was a poorly organized forum on site options for a new Tampa Museum of Art. Then there was last month’s stormwater fiasco in front of City Council.

Four points:

Don’t bet on a City Hall hat trick. Pam Iorio is not about to endure a third mayoral mea culpa. Her hands-on reputation was well earned. Assume that those hands are now a lot heavier when it comes to high-profile staff presentations involving the public.

Second, it was a major gaffe for stormwater department director Chuck Walter to make a cursory, one-minute presentation to City Council — no matter what the rationale, including redundancy. (There was a previous detailed presentation to council, and there has been plenty of information in the media – as well as resident mailings — about the $12-to-$36 fee increase as part of a five-year, $60-million plan to address some of the most pressing stormwater priorities.) No politician wants to be perceived as a rubber stamp. It’s a counterproductive insult, however unintentional.

Third, these presentations need to be done – and done well — not just because they’re part of good governance, but because it’s also prudent public relations. Don’t forget, any time there’s a public presentation, especially one that involves residents’ own money, there’s a civic rule of thumb that kicks in. That is, those in opposition – whether it’s to a retrofitted courthouse as museum or to a stormwater fee hike — will usually be the largest in number and loudest in noise. They may or may not speak for the community at large, but they can create the next day’s headlines, sound bites and momentum. At the very least, that has to be factored and, where necessary, countered.

Fourth, good government means both listening – and leading. This has to happen. Tampa is not only among the state’s most flood-vulnerable cities, it’s among the lowest in stormwater fees. A fee hike is no panacea; there are none. But it is a common-sense quality-of life and maybe preservation-of-life step that’s long overdue.

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