We are currently in a time where we have the entire world at our fingertips, yet we don’t always do a great job of connecting with those around us. Many of us can remember a time when our neighborhoods defined who we were — our friends, the schools we attended and our overall sense of safety and stability. However, it seems in recent times, you’d be hard-pressed to find communities across Tampa where residents even know their neighbors’ names. I found that to be more true than ever when I purchased my home in 2014 and realized that as I met my neighbors, very few of them knew one another.
As the only City Council Candidate who currently serves as a Neighborhood Association President, I have seen first-hand the positive impact that strong and empowered neighborhoods can have on the lives of their residents and the communities they support. We have seen communities, ignored for far too long, unify and gain a seat at the table to address their concerns and make positive progress in their area simply by being given a voice. Likewise, we have witnessed communities help shape the direction and vision of their neighborhoods by establishing plans to revitalize and improve their area benefiting residents, businesses, and visitors alike. Together the citizens of Tampa can achieve more than any single person could ever do alone. It is time to empower our neighborhoods, work together and move Tampa forward.
The Impact of Strong Neighborhoods
The purpose of neighborhood empowerment is to formally engage communities to increase participation in a wide range of local improvement efforts. Neighborhood associations vary widely in size, scope, and competence, but the range of issues and concerns that can be addressed is remarkable. They include public safety, crime, tenants’ rights, abandoned housing, community reinvestment, economic development, education, recreation and municipal services delivery.
Tampa continues to attract companies from around the country and with an increasingly business-friendly environment we can expect that our population and density will continue to parallel that growth. However, we have at least 38 neighborhoods that do not have formal representation listed with the City of Tampa neighborhood registry. Strengthening our established neighborhoods and creating associations for those without representation will positively impact the lives of our current and future residents by:
- Mobilizing communities to address common problems and to increase their voice in city government and decisions that affect their day to day lives and communities.
- Improving a neighborhoods physical and economic condition, such as the construction or rehabilitation of housing and the creation of jobs and business opportunities.
- Involving neighborhood-level efforts to improve city and county services that will positively impact people’s lives and opportunities within a neighborhood.
- Creating a network of community leaders who can help address public safety, crime concerns and improve preparedness in emergency situations.
I think we can all agree that Tampa has seen a renaissance over the last few years due to an improved economy and the administration’s focus on improving the downtown area. However, those who live outside the urban core will likely attest that these enhancements have come at the expense of the city’s 86 neighborhoods. Whether your own community suffers from roads with deplorable conditions, parks that have not been improved or maintained, overgrown alleys, or a general lack of support from code enforcement it is clear, that while downtown has progressed, our neighborhoods have regressed.
It is time for the focus to change and as your next City Councilman I promise to create a renewed focus on our neighborhoods across the city. But there is an important question left to be answered… How do we get there? I have identified a 4 point plan on how I will help move Tampa forward by strengthening and empowering on neighborhoods.
4 Point Plan to Strengthen and Empower Neighborhoods
1. Re-Invest in the Neighborhood Empowerment Department
Many years ago, Tampa properly staffed a team to handle neighborhood relations. Under Iorio the city employed 6 staff members focused on our neighborhoods. Under the current administration we have seen that number shrink year over year until only one city employee supported our 86 neighborhoods across the city. As a result, over a third of our neighborhoods in the city lack any association to represent them and far more have ineffective leadership because they haven’t been given the support, tools, and resources to be successful. That single remaining employee is retiring in March and there is no plan to backfill her role. That is unacceptable and leaves our neighborhoods with no support from the city.
The answer comes in proper funding. The budget is a collaborative process between the Mayor and City Council and as such I have already started gaining commitments from our Mayoral candidates to re-invest in our Neighborhood Empowerment Department for additional staff to support our neighborhoods. Ideally, I would like to see 4 staff members who are responsible for different sectors of the city and will help establish neighborhood associations where none exist and strengthen those that do. Alternatively, we could invest in three and align them to the Tampa Police Districts. These staff members would also have project specific responsibilities such as leadership/board development, county partnerships, grant support, and partnerships with Tampa Police Department. They would also act as a resource for associations when they need tools, resources, and knowledge related to rezoning, development, and any issues going before council that would have a detrimental impact on their community.
When the budget is being developed it is no secret that the administration works with the council members to provide funding to address their specific priorities. This oftentimes results in park improvements, roads, or special projects. I promise to focus my priorities on our Neighborhood Empowerment Department, so we can impact all communities across the city equitably and make a long term difference by cultivating, supporting, and empowering our grassroots leadership in the neighborhoods. During my tenure as your next City Councilman my goal is to assure that every neighborhood as an association to represent them and has the support to do so impactfully.
2. Strengthen Partnership Between TPD, Neighborhood Empowerment, and Community Leaders
With a renewed focus on funding our Neighborhood Empowerment Department we will see that the new staff has the capacity to build better partnership throughout the city. We will no longer have one person doing all the work, but many who will be able to prioritize and determine where we can invest time to positively impact our neighborhood associations. I believe that one of those areas would be in creating a more collaborative relationship between Neighborhood Empowerment and the Tampa Police Department.
Currently each of the city’s three police districts has a Community Liaison. They have a very similar job to that of Neighborhood Empowerment, to cultivate relationships with the community that benefit the city, TPD, and the residents. Despite those similarities they don’t seem to work in unison yet. If we created a better partnership between these two departments we could see more effective Neighborhood Watch groups aligned with the Neighborhood Associations. We could also see more positive police presence in all neighborhoods by the two working together promoting roll calls, bike registration, neighborhood watch and community meetings, and other events which show officers in more personal, social situations rather than just enforcement. If we strengthen our neighborhoods they will have a voice, the leadership to get these things done, and can be better advocates for their own community to TPD when issues arise.
While the accountability for this would fall to the Director of Neighborhood Empowerment and the Chief of Police, I would request staff updates on how these groups are partnering so there is a focus on this priority and better understanding of how these groups can work collaboratively to achieve similar results related to strengthening our neighborhoods.
3. Revamp and Support THAN
What is THAN? An “Umbrella Group” for all organized Homeowner Associations within the City of Tampa called THAN (Tampa Homeowners, An Association of Neighborhoods). The objectives are:
- To protect the interests of homeowners within the City of Tampa
- To monitor government action which may affect residential neighborhoods
- To educate members on issues, such as zoning codes, tree codes, etc.
- To work with the City on issues and programs that affect neighborhoods
- To disseminate information to neighborhood leaders in a timely manner and recommend a course of action when needed
This organization previously served an integral role within Tampa’s neighborhoods. In recent years the association appears to have lost their voice with city officials. I believe that this organization has a very important role to play with our neighborhoods and by supporting them, promoting neighborhood association membership, engaging new leaders to revitalize and improve the organization, and helping them regain a seat at the table we can once again see a strong volunteer organization that has a major impact on helping our neighborhoods understand the issues impacting them, the tools and resources available to them, and how to take action to preserve and protect our communities.
This starts with having elected leaders who see the organizations value, will listen to then, and will invest the time to see the group be successful. I have the experience helping revitalize groups like this, growing membership, developing leaders, and building influence as a result. I would proudly help them do the same knowing this would costs the city either nothing or a minimal investment and would result in a very good return on investment to empower our neighborhoods.
4. Host Monthly Town Halls Throughout the City
I believe that our elected officials need to be accessible to their constituents. I have walked many neighborhoods across the city, attended countless neighborhood association meetings, and heard a litany of frustrations from residents about how emails go unanswered, questions unresolved, and frustrations mount with those who they elected to office. During my own campaign I have hosted community town halls across Tampa called Community, Coffee, & Conversations. These are simple events intended to provide accessibility to me as a candidate, so residents can discuss issues impacting them and learn more about our campaign to move Tampa forward. We have seen great attendance at these events and once elected I will continue hosting these events monthly across the city. I want residents to have access to their elected official, an opportunity to express their concerns within their neighborhoods or the city, and a forum to help educate my constituents as an elected official on issues impacting them. These town halls will be in addition to attending neighborhood meetings and events that will allow me to get out and be a part of every community in Tampa.
My goal is to assure that every resident and every neighborhood has a voice in our amazing city. By establishing this 4 point plan I believe we can move Tampa forward and that we can do it together.