Council candidates trumpet their plans at forum

The District 1 incumbent finds herself the target of sharp criticism.

Published February 24, 2007

TAMPA - City Council member Gwen Miller bore the brunt of criticism Friday at a Tiger Bay Club forum for mayoral and at-large city council candidates.

Miller, a 12-year council veteran in District 1, has five opponents in the race.

Asked why challengers should replace council incumbents, District 1 candidate Rick Barcena offered this: "I will open my mouth and I will clearly speak so everyone can understand."

Barcena also pledged to work to reduce property taxes and attend every meeting unless there's an emergency.

Miller was in Spain on a taxpayer funded trip when the council voted to roll back the property tax rate for the first time in 20 years.

During this campaign Miller first said she would back another rate cut. More recently, she said she does not. Friday, she said she wants to see what the state does before deciding.

That prompted some boos.

District 1 candidate Joe Redner took on Miller after she said she would help small business by meeting with owners to help devise plans to meet their needs.

"Don't we have a department for that?" he asked.

"I say leave them alone. We overregulate some of them," said Redner, drawing laughs because he owns strip clubs the city regulates.

He also won applause when he called it censorship when the council waits until a meeting ends and turns the television cameras off before taking general public comment.

Miller said that during her time on council she has worked to get affordable homes and community centers built, backed the stormwater fee and addressed transportation issues.

If re-elected, she said, she would require that every large development incorporate affordable housing into at least 10 percent of the project.

Other candidates focused on taxes, growth and water.

Julie Jenkins called for mass transit and smart growth policies. Randy Baron advocated revamped water rates to penalize excessive use. And Denise Chavez said the taxpayers are paying more but seeing no improvement.

All three mayoral candidates - Mayor Pam Iorio, former fire chief Aria Green and former police captain Marion Lewis - were invited to the forum. Only Lewis showed up.

He said the poor and middle-class are being priced out of Tampa, and pledged to cut taxes and better manage the budget.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.