Tampa protesters condemn Mayor Castor’s veto of democracy
Tampa, FL- Dozens of outraged protesters gathered in an emergency action at Tampa City Hall on January 18, hours after Mayor Jane Castor vetoed all five proposed city charter amendments. The unprecedented veto marks the first time in Tampa history where the mayor vetoed all the city charter amendments, putting Tampa voters in the crossfire between the between the city council and the mayor. Voters had called for an end to the blatant ballot suppression, to have their rights put first, and overwhelmingly demanded an opportunity to vote for greater police oversight.
Two weeks before, on January 5, the Tampa city council passed the city charter amendments in a 5-3 vote to be put on the March ballot. Mayor Castor’s veto, which came two days before the veto deadline, effectively prohibits this charter amendment from appearing on the ballot for Tampa voters. However, it was possible for the Tampa city council to override the mayor’s decision at their January 19 city council meeting.
Demonstrators urged that the Tampa city council unite in overriding Mayor Jane Castor’s veto and give the opportunity for Tampa residents to vote this year.
The protesters waved signs such as “Castor vetoes democracy” and “Community control of TPD” as their peers gave passionate speeches about the importance of independent counsel on the Citizens Review Board (CRB). The proposed charter amendment for independent counsel would’ve allowed voters to decide whether the CRB could obtain independent legal counsel.
The Citizens Review Board was created in 2015 due to public pressure against the discriminatory “Biking while Black” program, to investigate and review disciplinary cases and issues of importance regarding the police department and Tampa community members.
The January 18 action was led by the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee joined by speakers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society, and the Restorative Justice Coalition.
Demonstrator Angel D’Angelo from the Restorative Justice Coalition stated, “The veto from Mayor Jane Castor is yet another example of the abuse of power government officials have enacted on the people in Tampa. If she has any respect for the people, she would not once again deny us the option to vote on matters we care about like she did with rent control. The next best step is that our city council override the veto and that we elect council members that will stand up to this abuse.”
The mayor’s decision to veto the amendment thwarts the democratic process of allowing taxpayers and concerned citizens alike the opportunity to vote on the matter. Unsurprisingly, Mayor Jane Castor was in the Tampa police force for 31 years and served as the police chief from 2009 to 2015. Her tenure in the Tampa Police Department has made her presence a strong barrier for police accountability in the city.
On January 19, the day after the protest, the Tampa city council overrode four out of the five of Mayor Castor’s vetoes. The issue of the Citizens Review Board obtaining independent legal counsel was the charter amendment that did not receive the supermajority vote necessary to override the veto.
Council members Joseph Citro, Charlie Miranda and Guido Maniscalo voted against. The majority of residents who spoke during the public comment section were in favor of the overriding Mayor Castor’s veto on the CRB charter amendment. Later that night, Councilwoman Lynn Hutak introduced an ordinance with the same language as the CRB charter amendment that city council will put to vote on February 2. If it passes, it will go into effect without the need of Tampa voters.
Simon Rowe from Tampa Bay Community Action Committee said, “We know that people have a right to determine how they’re policed. It may be an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop fighting until real progressive change happens in Tampa. Jane Castor cannot stand in the way of democracy forever.”