TAMPA, Fla. — Early voting got underway Monday in Tampa.
On the ballot? Tampa voters are selecting a new mayor, new city council members, and, for the first time in decades, there are charter amendments on the ballot as well.
In fact, there are 18 of them.
“Too many of them, and I really don’t know if I’ve heard it right or wrong,” said Mercy Cannella, emerging from a polling place Monday.
Cannella says frankly, it was a little overwhelming.
“By the time I got to the end I was tired,” she said.
Just when Cannella and other voters thought they were finished with their ballots, they flipped the page to find the 18 charter amendments, which are proposed changes to the city of Tampa’s rules and regulations.
The reason there are so many is because it’s the first time the charter has been updated since 1975.
“It would be better if it was done more frequently,” said Cannella, “Eighteen of them at one time. That’s a lot of them."
Most of the amendments are considered policy housekeeping, stuff like gender-neutral language, officially naming the city clerk Tampa’s chief historian, and officially mandating proposed ordinances be posted at least a week in advance online.
After all, who did that in 1975?
“Things change. Life is all about change,” said voter Lou Hoffman, “We live with change every day, you know?”
Some of the amendments focus on how much power the city’s mayor should have. Amendment 3, for example, allows council members to hire an aide without pre-approval from the mayor, which is currently the case.
Amendment 9, on the other hand, gives the mayor more authority to dictate the responsibilities of various city offices.
“I mean, there has to be checks and balances,” said voter Pam Cannella who opposed most of the changes.
But voter Johnny Gooding thought most of the proposals made sense.
“Trying to clean up some stuff, yes. Tie up loose ends,” he said.
Amendment 10 says department heads would have to live within city limits. Amendment 13 lets Tampa invest in a wider variety of investments which might be riskier, but also offer a better possible return. Such investments would still have to fall in line with state guidelines.
Amendment 16 would change the city charter to broaden Tampa’s anti-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation, color, pregnancy, age, marital status, familial status, disability, gender identification, genetic information, and ethnicity.
“Sometimes it’s best to leave things alone,” said Pam Cannella, “It’s working. Leave it alone.”
Gooding disagreed. “I don’t think it’s progressive as much as just catching up to where the rest of the country is already at."
Amendments 17 and 18 are somewhat related as they both have to do with future amendments.
Amendment 18 would clarify how to get a future amendment proposed, either through city council adopting an ordinance or getting 10 percent of the voters from the most recent city election to sign a petition.
Amendment 17 tries to avoid having this many charter amendments on any particular ballot in the future by creating a timetable requiring a charter review at least once every decade.
In this case, it’s been 44 years.
“It’s semantics, but it’s very important today in our society,” said Hoffman. “That’s for damn sure. Yeah. Absolutely. Because words mean a lot, you know that.”
Early voting continues through Sunday. Polling places are open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Election Day is Tuesday, March 5.
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