Three charter amendments pass in City of Tampa's municipal election

Tampa voters had the final say in some changes to the city’s charter this week, including a move to close what some called a loophole for choosing interim department heads.

Three charter amendments passed following the City of Tampa municipal elections Tuesday, and the results will be certified.

"The city charter is important, because it’s the city constitution. It’s where we get our powers, it’s where we dictate what we can and can’t do," said Lynn Hurtak, a Tampa City Council member for District 3 At-Large.

Hurtak was on the charter review commission, and she said the city charter did not have eyes look over it for 40-something years.

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"When we make changes to the charter, it’s not done lightly. There are a lot of issues that people said they really wanted to vote on, and we were able to provide several of those for the voters to make that decision," said Hurtak.

One of the changes will be how interim department heads are chosen following what happened with former Tampa police chief Mary O’Connor. 

"This was the loophole that we heard from the voters. They wanted it closed due to what happened with the last police chief, where she was appointed as the interim police chief before council had had a chance to vote," she said.

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There was already an interim chief in place who worked with the city at the time, and now that will be the rule in the future to help move on as smoothly as possible. 

"Interim Chief [Lee] Bercaw is a great example of that. He was a deputy chief already and has been with the department for many years, so he’s filling in just wonderfully," said Hurtak.

Then there’s how often to review the charter. It drops down from every 10 years down to every eight years.

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"We realized that elections are on a four-year cycle not a 10-year cycle, so we thought well if we really want folks to review this and for changes to go on a ballot, we don’t want them sitting around for two years," she said.

Finally, there are now term limits for city council members, capping it at 16 consecutive years.

"Currently, the mayor can only serve two terms. And then they had to sit out for four years, but they can run again. That was the impetus behind this to have council members serve two terms in say a specific district and then two more terms city wide and then have to sit out," said Hurtak.

Council member Hurtak said those changes came from residents who spoke up about what they wanted to see, and she said changes to the city charter are not made lightly.