tampabay.com

Layoff data too risky, city says

The city attorney declines to provide details about job losses sought by the council.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007


TAMPA - City Council members asked Mayor Pam Iorio last week to provide details on employees affected by the most recent round of layoffs.

The response from the city attorney?

No.

In a memo sent Tuesday to the council, City Attorney David Smith said collecting information on the race, gender and health insurance benefits of the employees who will lose their jobs in the next six months could expose the city to lawsuits.

Smith said "the very creation of such a list" could provide ammunition to people who believe those factors caused them to lose their jobs.

"I'm advising the administration not to create such a document and trying to encourage the council not to create such a document either," Smith said in an interview Tuesday. "You cannot create the inference that somehow the decision was based on race or gender."

Council member John Dingfelder, who initiated the request, said Smith is missing the point. Clearly, he said, the layoffs are not based on race or gender.

"But when we decide if entire departments should be eliminated, it's completely within our purview to look at that in a holistic way," Dingfelder said.

On Nov. 14, Iorio announced plans to lay off 100 people, mostly among the janitorial and security staff. Those services would be contracted out to the private sector. Iorio said the measure would save the city $3.4-million a year.

It's the second round of mass layoffs announced by Iorio. In June, 123 full-time city employees lost their jobs after property tax reform mandated by the Legislature forced Iorio to cut $20-million from the city's budget.

Some City Council members worry the latest job cuts hit extra hard at low-paid employees who can least afford to lose their jobs. They asked for details on those affected, including race, income and how many of their dependents rely on the city for health insurance.

Dingfelder said if Iorio's staff won't provide the information, he'll gather it himself.

Although the council has no say in the layoffs, the board will need to approve contracts to outsource services.

"We have to have all the information available and necessary before making those decisions," Dingfelder said.

Smith's memo said the layoffs were determined by position, not person. He said he wants to establish a paper trail to make that clear.

"I'm sure council is just trying to be helpful," Smith said. "I just want to keep people from using that information against the city."

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