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Sarah Lang


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Sarah Lang
Series Title:
Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman administration oral history project
Physical Description:
1 sound file (36 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
Lang, Sarah
Kerstein, Robert J
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Tampa (Fla.)   ( lcsh )
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )


During the tenure of Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman (1986-1995), Sarah Lang served as the Mayor's Employee Relations Manager. Ms. Lang discusses the city's union structure, employment discrimination issues, and the positive effects of Mayor Freedman's promotion of women in government. There is also a discussion about the relations between the mayor's office and the press during Mayor Freedman's tenure. The interview ends with a discussion of Ms. Lang's impressions of Mayor Freedman's administration compared with the administrations of the four other mayors she has worked for.
Interview conducted on January 27, 2006 in Tampa, Florida.
System Details:
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System Details:
Streaming audio.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Robert Kerstein.

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Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
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University of South Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 028546040
oclc - 180112514
usfldc doi - F50-00011
usfldc handle - f50.11
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C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0


1 Sandy Freedman Oral History Project University of South Florida Interview with: Sarah Lang Interviewed by: Robert Kerstein Location: Date: January 27, 2006 Transcribed by: Rebecca Willman Edited by: Ro bert Kerstein (09/06) Rebecca Willman (09/11/06) Final Edit by: Nicole Cox (09/11/07) [Tape 1, Side A] RK: This is an interview with Ms. Sarah Lang, January 27, 2006 in her office in City Hall. Thanks a lot for meeting with me, I appreciate it. Can I ask a couple of, kind of background questions in terms of your own history? SL: Of course. RK: Were you born in Tampa? force brat. I did come by way of Tampa when m y father retired from the military, and he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. But shortly thereafter he decided to move the family to Bradenton. So I grew up in Bradenton, Florida, and then came to Tampa after graduate school, and that was 1977. RK: And what was your degree in graduate school? RK: And when did you begin working for the City of Tampa? SL: I actually was still working on my graduate degree, and I was hire d in September of 1977. I was looking for an internship and I was hired with federal funds for a 90 day period, which is what I also needed to fulfill my degree requirements of having a full time internship with a public government any, any local state or national. So I was hired for 90 days, and then another 90 days [laughs]. And then maybe, I think another year extension this was the CETA Program, which had a tremendous influence on the city back then. They hired a lot of employees for different programs. Eventually I got a


2 RK: And what is your position today? RK: And what are you primary responsibilities? SL: Well I handle all of the labor relations for the city, all the discipline, grievances, a lot of the traditional areas of Human Resources. Recently had some further changes, I was Director of Human Resources until this past October, and with the redesign in our organization I also now h andle all of the employment areas: the recruiting, and the filling of positions, and a number of other areas. RK: Do you know how many people you supervise? SL: I supervise about 15 people now. to what extent things changed for you during the administration? I know in your position a lot of things would continue from one mayor to another. Were there any changes or any policies that were implemented during her admin istration that stick out to you? SL: Absolutely. At that time, in 1986 when she changed from being Chairman of City Council and she became mayor Bob Martinez went to run for governor and became governor. And at that point in time I was Employee Relations Manager, the same job title I have today. The job was designed a little bit differently; the department was called the Department of Administration, and the director of the department was Cynthia Sontag. And I got to know the mayor very early on because labor relations of course is a matter of time, and still do today, the Police Union, the Fire Union, and our general Employees Union. And had a lot of attention back then and throughout the Freedman administration on labor relations, probably more focus at that time that has never carried through since as far as media attention to labor relations. When we held negotiation sessions with the coverage. The microphones on the middle of the table from the local news media, and the print media would sit through almost every after a negotiation session. Today I rarely have a press person even show up for negotiations. RK: So were negotiations all in the Sunshine? RK: And how do you explain this media attention during ju st the Freedman administration?


3 SL: Well I think it was a sign of the times, there were some fiscal issues at the time that we had hiring freezes, it was not a time where the city had a lot of extra money to throw towards benefits and wages. Any increase s that we did; any of those contracts were focused primarily on the wages and not the benefits because we needed to keep our salaries so we were competitive and employing people. It just, I think was part of the times too [laughs]. RK: And when you say p Freedman administration in particular, or the unions were more vocal? SL: Well the unions were very vocal during that time and there were a number of hot issues that occurred during the per iod that Mayor Freedman was in office, [there] were the police officers. There was an issue regarding their take home vehicles that received a lot of media attention, and they were very vocal in their views towards that. There were also a lot of issues tha activities and the African American community. And incidents that were very unfortunate that resulted in perception or possibly situations also, of discrimination, of how police treate d members of the African American community. Where the fire department, there were issues regarding their work schedule that led to a public hearing before City Council to resolve an impasse. And they wanted to reduce their average work week from 52 hour s to 48 hours. And in that particular year they were because they were taking a zero pay increase. But of course to reduce your hours and receive the same pay is not free. It really was about a five percent increase and Council agreed to it, and they were victorious in their goal of reducing their work week. ix week period when you do the math, when you say RK: Can you explain to us the union structure in Tampa? We do have an interview with Mr. Tom Gonzalez who spoke a little SL: Well, the in Florida, the union, and for the public sector, unions are regulated by existence when Mayor Freedman took office. She was very familiar with them from being on City Council. And there had been issues during the Martinez, and even the Poe administration with difficult times reaching union agreements. And so she had been involved in that as a Council member and certain ly as Chairman of City Council. So we


4 RK: Your police, fire, and what is I think you said there was third? SL: A General Employees unit. Which is, covers about 2000 employees, did then and does today. The Amalgamated Transit Union, known as the ATU is primarily a bus Tampa Bus Lines, was a private company that was taken over by the city. They were already unionized, and then they eventually worked to unionize the rest of the city. The irony of that is it later became Hartline and is no longer part of the city. But we still have the Amalgamated Transit Union representing our g eneral employees. RK: Are all employees represented by unions? SL: No, but by far the majority probably adds up to about 78% are covered by union contracts. RK: What other issues arose during the Freedman administration? SL: Well I one of the things that she was very instrumental in and very concerned about was discrimination issues in employment. And I think I just read in the paper today they had a history thing it was interesting, that Gasparilla we used to be closed on a Monday for Gasparilla, the whole city shut down. I believe the school system shut down the same time, the government had been contacted by the community. She was very aware of that issue, and the importance of that holiday. And so it was added on very early on. I remember getting a lot of phon e calls from other cities and counties who were surprised that we were doing that. The other discriminatory type issue related to what I was saying earlier about the police department and the African American community. And we implemented a policy that s till exists today that some considered very harsh, and certainly got the attention of police officers and other city employees. It became known as B1.2, and it was a policy and is a policy that is deals very strictly with any city employee that utters a di scriminatory conduct about another employee or person in the community, a racial slur or something with the city and other attention. And I think it has had a tremendous affect on our employee workforce. RK: Was it enforced? In other words, did many personnel feel sanctioned for violating this rule?


5 arbitration process, but usually the you know, it was the message that was important. One of the cases that got a lot of attentions, which was a dismissal of a police officer suspension. So I never considered that as any thing but a victory in my mind as far as the point of the policy was certainly accepted. And ironically that officer went on to have an infraction again after that and, and he resigned before we could fire him. But we would have probably fired him I know. So I think those were instrumental things, I think that Mayor Freedman should be how strongly she felt about those issues. But she certainly always made it very clea r to me that she would not tolerate anything but treating citizens with equal treatment. RK: There was a lot of discussion nationwide during the time that Mayor Freedman was in office and still today, of affirmative action. Does the City of Tampa have an affirmative action policy? And was it adopted or changed during the Freedman administration? SL: Well it existed prior to her administration. And there were things long before I was with the city that had to do with employment issues. And they continued on you know, through her term of office. Things have changed a bit with affirmative action as far as affirmative action policy and documents that we had during her t erm of office because of here nor there, but she certainly gave great attention to whether or not minorities were being hired and represented in different positions. And certainly on that note, something I have thought about a great deal was what she had done for in particular for women in government. At the time that she took office I was uick math here [laughs] life is, is an interesting opportunity. I was a young female manager in the city and I had, my second child was born in 1987. So I was also a young mother a nd was faced with some real challenges as far as what we were doing at work during the time. Mayor Freedman gave me opportunities and had confidence in me to send me out to do some pretty big projects, not only negotiating the union contracts in the latter days, but writing things that I was involved in; that we reviewed, the investigative material to make sure was a huge responsibility. And Tom Gonzalez might talk about some of that also with you. I think that it was a remarkable time and there were a number of women we had a


6 RK: Who was that? SL: Pam Aiken, and she is currently the Cit y Attorney for the City of Clearwater. We had a number of women throughout government, Kathy Betancourt, who was our Intergovernmental Relations Director. My boss, for many a portion of those years, was Cindy Sontag, Director of Administration. And it was an empowering time for, for me in for me as far as a growth period and the opportunity to really learn how to do things. She selected me for one of the city slots f or the Tampa Leadership program. Which was a really great experience, the best part of it though was that, that she selected me. And that always meant a great deal to me. And I think that as government goes on after mayors, what you do with the management employees. RK: So more women held high positions during the administration? SL: Oh definitely. RK: And we saw that to some extent with African Americans -the first African American SL: Absolutely. RK: I believe an African American woman was appointed Director of the Convention Center. RK: Was that again, kind of a consci ous effort by the mayor? but she certainly the challenge was to cast the net to find who was out there that was available, that was capable of the position. And of c ourse, Chief Holder was an existing the Convention Center Director. And that definitely was a priority. Prior to Bennie Holder being Police Chief, Eddie Gonzalez was Police Chief, and that was one of the first times possibly the only time that we really had had a person from the outside become police chief. We had a national search and then we had a committee that included community leaders with representatives fro m the African American community as part of the panel that conducted the interviews of the candidates, and then made a recommendation to Mayor Freedman regarding who should be selected for police chief. And that was a very progressive approach to filling t hat position.


7 RK: And was that the case with both Chief Gonzalez and Chief Holder? SL: No, we did not do the national search for Chief Holder. he appointed Chief Holder. positions occurred Was anything about the timing, were any of the appointmen ts due to political pressure Gasparilla Day and Ye Mystic Krewe, and desegregating Mystic Krewe and the push by many African Americans to integrate the Krewe. SL: You know, them were before or after anyone ever. She had strong, strong beliefs, and I know she still does today about those things, and she would have made those selections regardless of whether there was media or community pressure. She had a has a heartfelt concern and care about all people. about the Sunshine Law, but you mentioned several investigations by the State Attorney. anything more? SL: Yeah, there were the State Attorney olitics But there seemed to be a, almost a witch hunt type feeling and they investigated the and a number of other city departments, and department heads. And interviewed a large number of city employees. And there was also an investigation conducted by the police department into some issues and it was, months and months and months and lots of documenta tion led to a lot of rumors while people were going down there and doing interviews. And it was a, kind of a tough situation. When it was all said and done, I think there was an employee in the Water Department that had some wrongdoing that eventually wa s arrested. We went back through all of the materials of course they look at criminal violations, but certainly there was a responsibility to look to see if there were any policy violations and employees that needed to be disciplined. A lot of the stuff th at they looked into was really, really old history. And, and the facts had, you know, were very hard to really confirm or witnesses, there were lots of old stories and things. But there was a lot of media attention on those types of things and I think it g ave a misperception to the public of difficulties


8 RK: Do you recall who the State Attorney was? SL: [Pauses] Mayor Freedman will, for sure. [Laughs] RK: People can also look that up. SL: Yes, but she will definitely rememb er that. on that. SL: Yeah. RK: Any other initiatives in the administration come to mind? e things that were going on fiscally. It was really tough times when I look at years since Mayor Freedman around, if any. We had hiring freezes, we had cuts within budgets, where every department had to give up five, six, seven percent of their budget. All of those to enable the finance to gather enough resources to continue to do things to enhance the police and fire public safety issues, which of course were her priorities. And rightly so. So it was a lean time in government. We had to make due with, with what we had and, and probably that made us much more efficient. Because when you have to make due with wh at you have you find new ways to do things with less. And I think city government benefited a great deal because of it. The Convention Center was built as I recall, the Aquarium towards the tail end of her administration. Although we had hiring freezes, we did a lot of employee development. One of the things that she had me do in the last few years of her administration, we had quarterly meetings with all of the managers in the city. It was about 100 plus managers. And so every three, four months, we woul d come together for either a seminar or some sort of meeting. And it was very exciting. We did the, the building across the street here that Sun Bank is in, was being built. We ran up to their floor, close to their top floor with hard hats on, and listened to and you could have the view of the entire city and you could see all of the different cranes that were up because of the building. You could see where the Convention Center was, where the Aquarium was being built. She had a sense of wanting to make sur e that all of the managers, no matter what they did, had the big picture as far as what was going on in Tampa. And then we often had leadership development type training as a part of that. And it was wonderful because the managers in different departments showed RK: Did you have to participate did you participate in the


9 interested in union or Human Resources at those meetings. I will tell you a story though, because I wanted to go to them. But of course it was c ommunity and then, they had questions about sidewalks and parks and recreation, and somewhere in there we had a participate in those, attend one. So I did attend one of them, and it was in South Tampa, and it was, it was totally enlightening. It was very interesting to see some of the different issues I knew about the issues, but to actually witness the conversation between neighborhood groups and citizens with the different depar tment directors and the, the bombarding of questions I was glad to get to go to that road show. RK: We often hear about cities being bound by state guidelines of one type of another, as well as federa l regulations. Does the state and federal government make much of a difference in terms of how you go about your day to day work, as far as having to follow various regulations and rules? SL: Well there are a lot of federal regulations that we, and some state, that we have to agency, known as PERC that handles that. And then of c like the Fair Labor Standards Act, and today we have the ADA and we have the Family SL: I we sure. SL: Well Poe was mayor when I came in as an intern. RK: OK, so you had Poe, Mayor Poe, an RK:.. and Mayor Freedman, and obviously Mayor Greco, and Mayor Iorio. SL: Correct. with the different mayors, would there be certai n policies or a policy that is kind of a legacy of the Freedman administration that kind of lives on?


10 SL: Well I think the discriminatory conduct policy definitely would fit into that category. I think that as mayor, she got to know so many city employee s. If you rode the elevator think that was delightful and wherever she went, she knew city employees. They called her directly to tell her things, I think that speaks of her openness and very, very caring she would be often the first person to tell me about a situation with an employee that was ly painted that picture of her, of what just, what a nice person she is and was to everyone. RK: You mentioned the media paid more attention to the negotiations during her time than with other mayors for a variety of reasons. Do you think the media treat ed her evenhandedly? SL: I think the media was really rough on her. You know, I, I remember being so angry sometimes with, I believe it was Mary Jo Melone and some of the criticism that they had of what did she have t was hat goes on with the Tribune and the St. Pete Times and their inside situation with editorials and stuff. But you almost silly and it kind of took off in a life of its ow n. RK: Did you often get calls from the media? SL: Yes, oh yes. RK: And did you find that you generally are quoted correctly? SL: Pretty well back then. When it was union negotiations I generally would be quoted directly but sometimes the articles w ould take an anti city slant that then would cause us difficulties trying to back peddle and make sure that the word got out to the employees that that was And tho se were difficult times. negotiations, and then you deal like you have to deal with the media at a ny point in time as far as making sure, or trying to make sure that they get their stories straight. But to sit in through all of the sessions.


11 RK: Is the city clearly and has the city clearly been in better fiscal shape since Mayor Freedman left office since 1995? budgets and things like that. I certainly have that impression. with at times, with eliminating positions or freezing positions. I think she had some really touch challenges, and had she not han dled them properly the city would be you know, paying for it dearly today. RK: So [are] negotiations a little bit easier for you now in a certain sense? SL: Well, I think they have been. I think the issues have changed not so much about before during the Freedman years, it was how much we could even spend. And, and our choices were very limited, we really needed to put all of the money into wages. Whereas [End Tape 1, Side A] ___ [Tape 1, Side B] RK: We were speaking about the focus shifting somewhat at least to benefits for workers, as opposed to just wage increases. jurisdictions. When we have been giving, in the past, some wage increases to get our wages up, some of the other jurisdictions, li ke the county have been enhancing their benefits rather than increasing their wages. So although we often pay more in some ting and looking at the other person just like the private sector does to make sure that you can recruit the best candidates for your jobs. with you trying to get q ualified people. SL: Sure, they always are. Yeah. but is it true that sanitation workers work for a private company?


12 many. But very, very not subcontracted no. In the county it is possibly, or portio ns are. RK: OK. I was thinking I apologize. I was thinking during the Martinez administration there was a change towards that. SL: There was a portion that was subcontracted out. But we have about 180 employees in that department. RK: OK, so the major ity is not contracted out? RK: Sure, sure. I was just wondering where city functions are contracted out, do you have any responsibilities at all, or is that handled between the private compan y and their employees? to contract a piece of work out, why then our office is usually involved in handling what happens to the employees whose work is taken o ver by a contractor. RK: My final question, as far as Mayor Freedman, how would you characterize her SL: Well I think she was definitely hands on. She want ed to be in the know. Always briefing her, certainly after every negotiation session or you know, every other one. Certainly briefing her on discipline cases. Anything else that might have attention. She did have a lot of trust and confidence in leadership We had a Chief of Staff, George Pennington, which I think was a good system of government, and similar to the Iorio administration where we have a Chief of Staff again. I think that that is a good way to manage government. And then she had administrators that also would administer the different departments. It was very orderly and I think she was, with her staff meetings and the way she organized things was able to be briefed frequently so that she was in the know. She did expect her department directors to manage their affairs. So she, rightly so SL: Alright [laughs]. RK: Regarding City Council, did you have to deal with individual City Council people much, or did you have to appear before City Council often? SL: No, not very often. The only every time we do a union contract we have to go over putes with the


13 The fire issue that I mentioned earlier with the reduction of the work week, that was one issue that I did have to deal with City Council quite a bit on. RK: Well thank you very, very much for talking with me, I appreciate it. SL: Thank you.

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Lang, Sarah.
Sarah Lang
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Robert Kerstein.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (36 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman administration oral history project
Interview conducted on January 27, 2006 in Tampa, Florida.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Streaming audio.
During the tenure of Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman (1986-1995), Sarah Lang served as the Mayor's Employee Relations Manager. Ms. Lang discusses the city's union structure, employment discrimination issues, and the positive effects of Mayor Freedman's promotion of women in government. There is also a discussion about the relations between the mayor's office and the press during Mayor Freedman's tenure. The interview ends with a discussion of Ms. Lang's impressions of Mayor Freedman's administration compared with the administrations of the four other mayors she has worked for.
Lang, Sarah.
Freedman, Sandy.
2 610
Tampa (Fla.)
Office of the Mayor.
Tampa (Fla.)
7 655
Oral history.
Online audio.
Kerstein, Robert J.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Tampa Library.
4 856