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    For Iorio, getting elected was the easy part

    By JOHN HILL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 30, 2003

    She has five months to write a $700-million budget. She needs a fire chief, police chief, city clerk, city attorney and new department heads for housing, water and business. Her city requires millions for health care and port security that it may not get. And the City Council would like some of her power.

    This is what awaits Pam Iorio Tuesday when she becomes Tampa's 52nd mayor. On paper she should be engineering a mandate. Iorio swept last week's runoff with 64 percent of the vote, taking eight of 10 neighborhoods. Voters took to her theme of making City Hall more responsive and many expect to see quick results. But despite the breadth of her popular support, Iorio enters office with the weakest grasp of city politics and policy of any mayor here in a quarter-century. She may have been the strongest candidate in a rich and crowded field, but her history in county -- not city -- government presents Iorio with a formidable learning curve.

    Iorio acknowledged as much the day after her election, announcing the appointment of respected attorney Fred Karl to oversee a four- to six-month transition period. Karl's title will be interim city attorney. But his job will be to help Iorio assemble a leadership team. This will involve not only pairing Iorio with people who can move her agenda, but fusing the new mayor's campaign promises with the reality of what she can accomplish.

    For all her talk about bringing a fresh perspective to City Hall, Iorio will face pressure internally to maintain the status quo. She already agreed to follow through with several big-ticket projects initiated by her predecessor, Dick Greco. The dilemma for Iorio is deciding which Greco holdovers have institutional value to her. She'll need some to keep this 4,000-employee bureaucracy running, but she also can't shy away from public expectations she'll clean up and reorganize the city administration.

    Staffing decisions will be closely watched as a sign of the mayor's priorities. Will Iorio surround herself with business people or neighborhood activists? What professional and ethical standards will be the norm in her administration? How heavily will Iorio draw from the private sector, how diverse will her senior staff be, how deliberative and open will she make the decisionmaking process? The people Iorio appoints will shape the mayor's thinking on a range of public policy, from how ambitiously to market Tampa nationally to how to balance business and neighborhood needs, how aggressively to pursue annexation and how to regulate adult businesses.

    "She's going to need new people, and you've got to do that early -- you better do it in the first 30 days," said outgoing City Council member Charlie Miranda, who was defeated by Iorio and leaves office this week after 30 years in city politics. "She's got a very short window. After that, the dog's out of the house and running through the neighborhood."

    'She'll be real busy'

    Iorio will experience two dramatic changes in making the switch from county to city government. Hillsborough's commission-manager form of government works slower than that under Tampa's strong mayor. "The tide moves so quickly," Miranda said, "you don't know if it's coming in or out." Iorio also has a starkly different management style from the mayor she succeeds. Greco leaves Iorio with several unfinished projects; he also was famous for leaving details to subordinates. The result: Iorio will assume several initiatives she has limited background about.

    "Dick had a fairly fast track," said former Mayor Bill Poe. "There were a lot of things that Dick was pushing, and in various stages of negotiation. These issues are still going to be on the table, and she doesn't have all the background."

    Miranda and others agree and say Iorio will need strong controls over her department directors. She doesn't need to manage the flow of an underground water system that could stretch from New York to Los Angeles, or decide the wattage in the city's 31,000 streetlights. But as Scott Paine, a former council member, explains: "One of the first decisions they'll have to make is what you're going to do with all those folks that have been there." Greco's approach on taking office was to create a new level of decisionmaking at the top -- creating, as Paine said, another layer around the bureaucracy "and ignoring the one that was already there."

    The turnover in staff that Iorio faces could work to her advantage over the long term, but her immediate problem is a serious brain drain. Greco, for example, included $8-million in this year's budget to cover buyouts and new hiring costs associated with retirements by police and firefighters. Fifty-nine officers and 43 firefighters will retire before October -- many in the senior command ranks. These are hardly entry-level vacancies to fill. The fire department, for example, will have to replace six members of the seven-person command -- the chief, assistant chief, deputy chief, rescue chief, personnel chief and training chief. Said Miranda: "She's going to have some very big holes to fill."

    The turnover could change the dimension of any message Iorio sends with her first-year budget. Though the 2004 spending plan won't be unveiled until August, department heads will make specific proposals to Iorio in the coming weeks. The budget process will be an important backdrop for both sides. Staffers will voice their priorities even as they wonder whether they will be replaced. For Iorio, it's a chance to see how well her department heads share her broader agenda for governing.

    "It will be important for her to do something in that first budget that sets a tone, that says we're focusing on people, not on buildings or monuments," said Paine, who teaches communications and government at the University of Tampa. "I expect it'll be a big neighborhood thing, as opposed to a downtown or Channelside district thing. That's what people are looking for her to do."

    Poe said Iorio has some breathing room politically because she's so widely known and respected. City employees, he said, will watch for signs of Iorio's management style, but there's no compelling need to make a budget splash. Poe said these messages are often misread, anyway. When he became mayor in 1974, Poe wedged a stopper underneath his open office door. He was hailed as an advocate for open government. Actually he wanted a better view of who was meeting in the conference room.

    "I think she'll be real busy," Poe said, "but I think she'll move forward and get it done without a lot of chaos. She's got the credibility of the public and the media, and I think she did a wonderful job in selecting Fred."

    -- John Hill is a Times editorial writer in Tampa.

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