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interviewed by Robert Kerstein.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (78 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman administration oral history project
Interview conducted on November 19, 2005.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
During the tenure of Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman (1986-1995), Steve LaBour served as Deputy Director of Communications and as the Mayor's Liaison to Neighborhoods. The interview begins with a discussion of Mr. LaBour's education and what brought him to the Tampa Bay area in 1983. Mr. LaBour also discusses various Tampa neighborhoods, such as Westshore, Old Seminole Heights, Carver City, College Hill, and Lincoln Gardens. He also discusses THAN (Tampa Homeowners Association of Neighborhoods), HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development), and the 1985 Growth Management Act. The interview ends with Mr. LaBour reflecting on Mayor Freedman's management style and her day-to-day involvement with the citizens of Tampa.
Office of the Mayor.
Kerstein, Robert J.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
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: Steve LaBour Interviewed by: Robert Kerstein Location: Tampa, FL Date: November 19, 2005 Transcribed by: Rebecca Willman Edited by: Robert Kerstein (09/06) Rebecca Willman (09/11/06) Audit Edit by: Nicole Cox (08/27/07) [Tape 1, Side A] RK: This is an interview with Steve LaBour. Thank you for speaking with me. RK: What was your position with the Freedman administration? SL: Actually I had two titles. I was the Deputy Director of Communications, and I was your background if I could? SL: Sure. RK: Where were you born? SL: I was born in Seneca Falls, New York. Small, very small town [in] upstate New RK: And where did you go to college? SL: [I] went t o Rochester Institute of Technology. I started out at University of Tampa, went there for two years, and then transferred to the Rochester Institute of Technology. RK: And then after you graduated from college did you move to Tampa right away? SL: Not r ight away. I actually put off going to law school and worked for a private law firm and then I went in to become a paralegal with the Legal Aid Society in Rochester, and worked there at that position for four years. And then went to, back to the private se ctor in a private law firm. And then I got a call from my father who had moved to
2 development company here in Tampa. And he called me and said, would you be willing to put off law school to c ome down to help me kind of get to the next plateau, so that I could retire early, and enjoy life ? And I need to bring somebody in the office I can trust and actually has your, has your skills and would you consider it? And I said, sure in a heartbeat. I mean, moving to Florida was a, was a good thing from Rochester, on the average of 93 inches of snow a year. RK: Do you remember what year that was? SL: I moved down in 1981. RK: And when did you first meet Sandy Freedman? she probably was the second elected official I met when I got here. Before I had left Rochester, I had, had become politically active, in that I was very interested in the political process and was very interested i n good government. So I, I kind of signed on as a volunteer and worked on a couple of campaigns up in Rochester. So when I came to Florida, I really wanted to get involved, and somebody had said to me, you really need to meet Sandy Freedman, you know And through I had met Bob Buckhorn working on another campaign, and doing some work for the Democrats, and so he introduced me. We had lunch, and we chatted, and I was impressed from the very first day. I was exc ited about the fact that she might become mayor one day. RK: She became mayor in 1986 when Bob Martinez stepped down to run for Governor. Did you get involved with her administration that early? and there was a time in which she had to run. I think that was in 1988, I think she had I think appropriately so, there was a lot of people who were concerned that she might make a lot of changes and then run, and then you know, god forbid what would happen if she lost, and then she had made all these changes. So she was very true to the office, right from the beginning. She was very, she was very conc erned about you know, doing what was right for the Office of Mayor as opposed to Sandy Freedman, you know, personally or politically. So I Hall, she was gearing up for the campaign, an d she said that she needed to bring in some good people to help her and I told her, And so I became the volunteer coordinator for the campaign. It was [an] unpaid position and I volunteered, volunteered my time put toget her the, you know, the talks, and the phone banks and you know, just really helped around the office, campaign office. RK: And when did you join the administration? SL: I joined the administration in 1988, March of 1988.
3 RK: And what were your initial other words, what your initial responsibilities? SL: Well after she won, you know won the seat, if you will she was you know, already mayor, but she won the election. I had decided that I was goi ng to go to law school again, and had applied and had gotten accepted. And in the meantime, just trying to and my father had sold the business, he was able to retire early like he wanted to. And it was interesting, because I was kind of figuring out what a m I going to do right before I go to law school? in that fall. And a local politician, Pat Frank, who was a state senator, had decided to run for the US Senate. And so just, everyone was fairly realistic about her chances and everybody suspected she probab But I had known Pat for many years, so I had signed on voluntarily to work on her campaign. I worked full time on her US Senate campaign. When she lost the first in the first primary, which was August, Buddy MacKa y, who had come in second at the time, she endorsed him, and he asked me if I would come, come on board and actually was paid. And [I] put going off to law school to January, and did that campaign, and we lost a very, very close election in November, very heartbreaking. And so I came back to Tampa and Sandy Freedman I stopped in to see Sandy, and she said And so it must have been like three weeks later, given her schedule, [and] we had lunch, and after the end of a very, you know, nice l unch of catching up on, on what was going on, she said, have you ever thought about working for government? And I said, no, not really And she said, wrestling with to figure out who would position that would, that would help us with internal communications and do some communications work; but more importantly, would reach out to neighborhood associations, help start them, work with ones that already existed, show t hem that I am interested in making sure that they are brought into the process. This person would also have to work internally with departments and convince them that I was serious about this work. She said, much are you interested? And I said, know, I think it plays to my skill sets, and she agreed. She said, it dawned on me that you were probably the person that I nee ded to bring into this position. And it was a brand new position, it never, it never the city had never had that position. So, I thought about it for one day, and called her up and said, And she said, And I think it was like, three weeks later, I was walking in City Hall. RK: And you reported directly to the Mayor? SL: I had two reports. On the communications internal communications tasks, I reporte d to John Dunn, who was the Director of Communications. But on all the neighborhood stuff I reported directly to Sandy.
4 SL: Oh, there was no question it was neighborhood. I mean it w as, probably a 90 10 percent you know a 90%, 10% split. RK: Some cities are known for having strong neighborhood organizations, and in some cases have gone back you know, decades. When you first entered City Hall, how would you characterize the level of neighborhood organization in Tampa? Was it well organized, the neighborhoods? SL: No. It was very primitive in the sense that the, we had about 20 organized groups. And quite frankly, they were organized mainly some of them had been around for quite a whi le, Wellswood, for instance, [a] very old neighborhood association. But a lot of the neighborhood associations had formed because of the concern of in 1985 the state passing the Growth Management Act. And so it meant that each jurisdiction, Tampa included, had to come up with a comprehensive plan a land use plan and had to come up with zoning to match that. And neighborhoods had been fighting you know, the encroachment of commercial development, especially at Westshore. When Westshore was allowed to devel op, a lot of those neighborhoods felt that that was, [or] could be the beginning to the end of their neighborhood, so they were very concerned about that. So the strongest neighborhood associations had been formed around growth management issues or zoning issues, land use issues, and not what you would think you know, crime or drugs, or that kind of thing. So when I came on board, that was really an education for me that we only had 20 orst sections of town, or the sections that had the most challenges, they were mainly in South Tampa, although there were certainly a few. Old Seminole Heights was already formed because they were very concerned about the widening of Hillsborough [Avenue] and what that impact might have on them. So they were smart to organize. So I kind of came in with I remember the very first day I started, late afternoon, you every thing is, so late afternoon, the Mayor had said, stop, stop on by before the end of the so I did, and she said, what do you think ? And I said, to go to work and she said, and I said, where do I find the list of neighborhood associations? And she looked up over her half glasses to me and she said, why do you think I hired you? So I realized, ok, this is a little more basic than I thought. So, that was my first task, was actually to try to find out, where t he heck are these then, and then RK: Was there any umbrella organization that the neighborhood organizations belonged to at that time?
5 SL: Y eah, actually because of the growth management issues, Park Wright III, who had been a interestingly enough was a real strong Chamber guy I mean, he was a downtown guy, a South Tampa guy, had the respect of you know, all of the movers and shakers if you wi ll of that time. But he was very he lived in Beach Park. And he was very concerned about this growth management stuff. And so he had talked to a few people who had gone down to City Council that were clearly from organized groups. And one of those persons was Margaret Vizzi from Beach Park, his neighborhood. And he talked to Margaret, and he said, Margaret, do you think that of the groups that are organized, there would be any need or use, or would it be helpful if there were an umbrella group? And she said So he actually hosted the very first lunch, and invited all the known at that time organized neighborhood associations to the, brought them to the table. And I think they might have had a couple meetings that he kind of facilitated after that, but then he stepped back and he let them, let them move forward. And they were, they were becoming stronger and more solidified right when I was coming on board and working for Sandy. So Sandy had told me about them, she s aid and she knows all about them, but we need to find out about them and support them, and they probably can be of some hel p to you. So I contacted Margaret, and you know, she was just you know, very pleased to think that the administration was reaching out them I think a little skeptical, which was normal, and I got a lot of that at first. But they invited me to everyone of t heir meetings, and, and it was a wonderful learning experience for me because I could tell first hand you know, directly from them, what the issues were and what their concerns were. RK: What was the name of the organization? SL: The organization was T HAN, which was Tampa Homeowners, an Association of Neighborhoods. RK: And in reality, was it primarily neighborhoods where most people owned homes as opposed to being renters? SL: Yes, they were hey were there to protect their property values, to protect their neighborhoods from commercial issue other than, pretty much, land use. However, Carver City/Lincoln Gardens was one of the founding neighborhoods and at the time there was a wonderful woman a lot of but she actually really was a treasure for Carver City/Lincoln Gardens, and that was Loretta Ingraham. And at the ti me, Carver City/Lincoln Gardens had a county jail, right smack in the middle of their neighborhood. And so she was smart enough to realize I need to hitch my wagon onto THAN, and those neighborhoods, because they probably can help me and it was just a won derful connection for them. Because they ended up, they end up helping one another as well.
6 Because Carver City Lincoln Gardens is physically located pretty close to Westshore, and the property r was that the developers would just go in and just buy up this land and turn it into commercial or office, or anything but residential. And so Loretta said, I need your help, THAN, to help and it was a good partnership right from th e very beginning. RK: Is that primarily an African American neighborhood? if this is accurate or not but my understanding, it was, when the urban renewal took pl ace, in Ybor, and I think somewhat in West Tampa as well, that this was the place that they were going to, you know, they could show that they were not just displacing these ity that they could, they could, they could buy a house and live in. And the reality is, it was that they would want to live. But they quickly turned it into, two co mmunities: Carver City and Lincoln Gardens. And very predominately African American. RK: What would you say was the social class of those neighborhoods? SL: They were lower working class, I mean, you know husband and wife both worked, were very proud, I mean, took great pride in their little, you know, little houses, and said, and they have. still active today, and still you know, fighting for their neighborhood. And if, taken over by developers. RK: Of the neighborhood organizations in existence when you first started with the administration, was that the only predominantly African American one? SL: Yes, yes. Now the housing authority, with College Hill and a couple of others had, technically, HUD requirements required them to have associations. But the y really dealt bigger picture of how does my community fit you know into the whole of Tampa? So while I certainly you know, contacted them and they worked with me and I worked with them a little, at first it was really not a neighborhood association in the way you would think of a neighborhood association. RK: Now when you first started, were the plans still being formulated under the 1985 act? Or were they already c ompleted? SL: When I had started they had Tampa was actually one of the first communities, if not the first, if I remember correctly that actually successfully completed its comprehensive plan process. I think it was the first jurisdiction to be accepted by the state. And they had already done zoning compliance, which was the second phase. You
7 set the land use first, and then you had to make sure your zoning complied. And it was, it was an incredible, you know, incredible process. You know, very painstaki ngly done and you know, a lot of meetings; and City Council had to sit through a lot of hearings that were at times difficult. But by the time I came on board, that had just been completed. RK: Now did you get the impression that they the organizations in THAN believed they had real input into the process? SL: I think they felt at the end that they had the best that they could expect. One of the things that Sandy had told me when Sandy Freedman became mayor, she [had] already been on City Council for 1 2 year prior to that, and had been Chairman. And, in a matter of fact, she might have even mentioned this at the lunch that we had when she first floated the idea in fact, I know she did. She said her frustration of 12 years sitting on City Council was tha t the only time there seemed to be public an opportunity for public input was at the public hearing. And she said three minutes. And she said, represent the applicants who are trying to make these you know, land use changes or zoning changes, wo And she said it was the or ganized groups, the information plugged in, you know, earlier in the process. And so she made it that was one of my absolute, you know, number one responsibilities was to make sure that we were trying to get them information as early as we possibly could issues? You know, clearly, zonings or land use changes would be something we want to make sure we did early, make sure they were plugged in early. But what about if we were goin g to change out their water main? Or we were going to improve an intersection, or clear to the Mayor that she said, yes, yes, yes, yes to all of that, and said, you know, this is a full program, this is not just on rezonings and wet zones. RK: And that means, I assume, that you had to be in touch with several of the city bureaucracie s? SL: Yes. information with people outside their bureaucracy? SL: Not only were they not only were they not used to it, but they absolutely said it was not their r esponsibility to do it. The irony is, when I first started, I thought the toughest, the toughest part of my job was, was going to the neighborhood associations for the first
8 time and going to their meeting, you know, because City Hall had really never reac hed out to them proactively. It only had been doing it reactively. And those meetings were first meeting, even though they introduced me as a special guest speaker, I wou ld tell them that I was really a special guest listener. Because I had a feeling that they probably had a lot of things they wanted to tell me. And sure enough, they would unload, from the real serious to the benign. I heard it all. And what I did was I p romised them I was coming back you know, within 60 to 90 days; I would come back to their meeting, and then some of these issues So I thought that was going to be the to ughest part of my job. And I found people to be neighborhood associations to be incredibly receptive. Especially the leadership. You might have some of the citizens who were very skeptical, but I mean, I met usually with the leadership before I ever actual ly went to one of their meetings. But they were very receptive and I was very pleased. So when I went to the departments to get them plugged in and say, great news, you know, I want to take you to this next meeting at you know, South Seminole Heights or wherever it might be, and they said, transportation people would tell me, And so I went to the mayor and I said, boy, this is this is tougher than I thought it was goin g to be. And she said, And I, I was lucky and fortunate because I had a mayor that was obviously behind it behind this culture change. And she was the one that was actually instituting it. So I had the ability of be ing able to have my phone calls returned by directors if I called them. Well what I did was I actually met with them, I said, tell me why, you know why why is it tough for you to go out to these meetings? And they would say, you know, Steve, have to go to that meeting. And so they said, you know we walked into a, you know, say. You know we really had good news to deliver them to them often times, you know, very p And So what I tried to come up with was ways that I could get the department to go to a You literally are inconveniencing people, and you probably have to do a detour, which means the Transportation Department has to work closely with the Water Department to figure out where that detour is going to be, and you know those kinds of things. And so I
9 would take the Water Department Dire something we want to talk to you a bout And they would say sure. And so they would unveil the plan, this is, you know, this pipe has have better water pressure. The b And so they would say, you know, this is the detour, you know, take a look at it, let us know if you think this is going to work. And we got bly, you know, someone would raise their well, what are you going to do about the bus stop on the corner And the transportation would say, oh, well we do d we heard that now, because hmm, maybe we need to, you know, figure this out differently. For instance, if the project was going to extend from a school year into the summer, they might reverse how they were going to do it, so the bus stop during school s work those things out. I remember one meeting, I loved it there was a detour route that was going to a corner with a gas station, and they were only going to let people turn one direction, I forgot what it was. And everybody just kind of chuckled to themselves, and they said, nobody waits at that light, they all cut through the gas station now. And so the Transportation Department said And th ey said, that. The bottom line is after we would have those meetings, the people wou ld go up to the department head and they would say, wow, thank you for coming out, would you like some punch? You want some cake? I mean, a whole different kind of atmosphere. And by the way, as I introduced them to the group, I would tell them you know, h ow long they worked with the city, where they had graduated, that they had family, you know tried to humanize City Hall for the people as well. Because our directors, you know, they they did a lot of tough work, and you know, they needed the citizens neede d to know, know they were people too so to speak. And the department has loved it, and I think we showed more positive things can happen. RK: Were priorities ever changed after a neighborhood meeting in other words, the citizens saying, instead of this program, we want another program or something along those lines? SL: Absolutely. And department heads though, I mean they, they do believe they do their
10 work well, so they believe that you know they gather all the information and they come up with their work programs, and that they believe that citizens will be pleased with the choices that they made. What Sandy would say to department heads, that could very well those choices are, and before you make your final decision, I want, I want them to weigh in on it. And yeah, several times, I mean, they, people would say, you know what? You know that sidewalk you it over here. And the Transportation Department would say, really? We would have [neighborhood reply] Or certainly in Code Enforcement, which was, which was a very high priority for Sandy, we used citizen input a lot in trying to figure out what was the best way to get through a very comp lex due process ridden, you know, process of Code Enforcement. can be cited. Shortly after Sandy became Mayor, it was during a time in wh ich everyone was fleeing from the city and they were going to the suburbs. And so our property tax base was diminishing. Plus the neighborhoods that had, you know, the higher crime, etcetera, you know, they were being impacted the most. And so she was cu rious to find out you know, if we if we were able to bring people back or bring new people into the city, where would they live? And what was the, the condition of the housing stock? So she had a survey done, and it came back and said that 25% of our housi ng stock was substandard code. And she knew right away that that was killing neighborhoods, because it was problem, you know, south of Kennedy [Blvd]; we did Heights, in Forest Hills, those kinds of places. The problem was clearly localized in East Tampa. So and Sulphur Springs, they they had had, they were really hurting bad, badly. And they marched on City Hall right about th e same time I started, and said, going to harass you every single week until you do something. And so that was one of the would have been able to turn code enforcement around without the commitment of the citizens. They were just phenomenal. They would even put themselves in physical risk to make sure that certain properties got condemned or were cited. I mean it was really incredible. A couple of them had been threatened actually. neighborhood meetings that you attended? SL: Well it depends. If there was a real hot button issue, you could pack a room with 70 100 people. If it was a neighborhood that was you know, doing pretty well, you know,
11 they were curious to meet the city staff or meet, you know, you might get 20, 50 people. neighborhood associations with the exceptions of th e ones in New Tampa, are all volunteer neighborhood associations. Somebody got up one day and in talking with their neighbor said, you know? We really need to keep meeting. You know, we really need to make sure we bring our neighbors together and we need t we could be under attack. In the county, most of the neighborhood associations are legal entities that are put together because of subdivision requirements that they have to have a homeowners association. And the reason you hav e to have a homeowners association is because they have common areas that they actually collect money that they have to So it was always, when I would walk into a room of just 20, I would, you know, I w ould be thrilled because it meant that 20 people cared enough to take their time talking about people who were retired, young couples, you know, people who, you know, had busy lives, but had decided that that was a commitment that they wanted to make. And then when I would walk into a room that had 100, I mean, take like an old Seminole Heights and then e half the a good dinner [End Tape 1, Side A] ___ [Tape 1, Side B] RK: So you were pleased that citizens came to meetings concerned for their neighborhoods? SL: Certainly pleased. It made my life easier believe it or not. But also, amazed. You know that, that, you know that people would care that much. attend the meetings would at some point believe th at the neighborhood organization from some folks that felt that maybe their issues or thei r area might not be adequately neighborhood association, and actually on their behalf, I would contact the leadership of
12 know, wanted to keep the confidence of the person that might call me. But I would say to them, you know, I got a call from someone who was concerned, and usually, 99% of the time they were, they said, welcome So there was the only time in my tenure, Tampa Heights was going through a lot of growing pains, and we were, we were really targeting a lot of our affordable housing in Tampa Heights, and we really needed them to be organized and helpful. And there became a, kind of a split between those who had moved into the area that had bought the properties that were fixing them up, that you know, for obvious reasons wanted to make sure their investment was safe. But yet there was the core people who had lived there, you know, through the good times, and then it slid back to the bad times, and now there seemed to be hope. They felt that there was not, you know, maybe this organized group was not representing them. And I remember you know, they were adamant about, we not representing us. And the other group would say, you know, So I and they wanted me to make a decision, you know, the City to make the decision. And by the way, one thing the city did not do, that quite frankly was by accident, [was] that I kind of set this policy and later realized after talking to people who do neighborhood work that this is a good policy and everybody, anyone who does neighborhood work successfully follows and that is you never set the boundaries of a neighborhood association for them. They need to come to unrealistic, or I might have to say, such and such, and w hy are you going over to such and such interstate, all the way to the interstate? Why are you kind of lopping off these three blocks? So it was always [an] interesting discussion. But back to Tampa Heights. They wanted me to mak e a definitive decision where the boundaries would be for each of these groups, and it clearly overlapped. And I said, no, I will host a meeting in which I will bring you to the table, and you guys can talk about it, and I hope that by the time we leave that you will have agreed on what those boundaries would be And it was at times a very we had that meeting, at times it was a very heated discussion. At one point, I said, because there might be some things y ou might want to say that you might not want to And I came back and they clearly had they were very quiet when I walked in the room so they clearly had had some, some tough d iscussions, but I was proud of them, because at the end they had decided not they had started the meeting with saying, how are we going to work out two separate boundaries? They left the meeting by saying, how can we work together? And I personally, I can it to them, that I just simply said, to help that happen. And I went out and said you know, thank you lord Because it just would have been sad, i t would have, it would have really turned them back. We would have, we would have lost ground. Matter of fact, we probably, given the financial commitment that the mayor had made to that area through the challenge
13 Challenge Fund. And the amount of money we were spending there, both federal, state and local dollars we probably would have just had to take it over and say, you know, we So I was very pleased I could report to the mayor that they had worked out their differences for now, and they were still a viable group, and we still need to work with them. RK: When you went before the neighborhood associations, went to their meetings, spoke with them, you were representing the admin SL: Right. SL: Right. and what type of re sponse did they get there? SL: When we were in office, Council was very pleased that Sandy had a very strong neighborhood program and [that] I was the guy that was, you know, the liaison. I worked with the single member district councilpersons fairly clo sely. It was important that they knew, you know, what we were doing, and I tried to keep them plugged in. Candidly care, they trusted the administration to do the right thing. While there were others that were you know, very concerned [about] what we were doing. would wait until a City Council meeting and then they would pound on the da is and say, And I was, you know, I was, I was young and you know, [a] young lad and I used to get pretty upset about it, and go back and vent to the mayor and the senior staff people, and they pretty much could sa y, you know, just, But it took me a while to get used to that. But for the most part we had, as far as the neighborhood work was concerned, I would say that we had a very good working relationship and they were, they were generally very pleased with what we were doing and keeping them abreast. I just want to make a side comment we were in office at a time in which money was not flush. As a matter of fact, there were cities all across the country that literally were shutting down parks and closing zoos and, and you know, a couple I think a community in Connecticut that declared bankruptcy. You know, so it those were tough economic times. And by the way that was the other reason Sandy why knew that she had to get supportive citizens because with the limited resources we had, she wanted to make sure that they knew that we were that we would be spending them in areas that they would want us to spend them in. And if you got that kind of support, then if she had to raise taxes, god forbid, you know, they would they would understand that there was, you
14 They could, you know they could beat on the dais all they wanted, the y could try to embarrass the mayor to fund a park or you know, a special program they wanted to do. at we need to work with the administration and that might move this project a little higher up on the priority list. Because there was a lot of projects vying for very limited dollars. RK: Did any of these neighborhood leaders end up running for politica l office? neighborhood association, and I worked with her when I was the liaison. She was, she John Dingfelder also wa of came up through the ranks. He was also formerly a county attorney so I think he also understood, you know issues that were involved. Certainly with land use and zoning and that kind of thi ng. But he had worked very, you know, very hard for his neighborhood as well. I think those, I think that Shawn Harrison actually is on, is elected to one of the formal or ntly serves in that capacity but I believe he was on the board of directors for his neighborhood association, in a different capacity than, like I said before, than most neighborhood association officers. But I think those are the and that happened, you know you know, when I came on that Sandy did enever we had a vacancy or on the planning commission the mayor might appoint then it was a Zoning Adjustment Board, open Code Enforcement certainly we would send a notice ou t to neighborhood associations and say, is there someone that you know, you would like to see or think might be interested in volunteering? And we were, we actually placed for the very first time, a lot of real citizen neighborhood people on those boards. RK: I think you said there were about 20 neighborhood organizations when you started to roughly how many? g about solid neighborhood associations that had a track record of actually either incorporating if
15 they did incorporate they actually had been in existence for more than a year, had a formal board of directors. There was probably about 20 that would kind of float in and out. That if there was an issue before City Council, then they would say, OK, I guess all need to get together and we need to go down to City Hall. We were able to and by the way, when I started, and we had those 20, you know, organized gro ups, there was probably about 30 floaters that would float in and out. And I literally would go I also literally would run after a couple people who might have come down to speak out against you know, give them my card and say, can I call you? We need to get you organized. We need to get an organization together. And through the help of THAN, THAN was a wonderful mentor for a lot of start up groups. They were never, never shy to help anybody. And, [as] a matter of fact, put tog ether a kind of a starter kit if you will, that had like a, a draft set of incorporation papers. We were very supportive of a group actually becoming incorporated. Because when you become incorporated it, it lessens the liability of each of the individuals who might volunteer to become officers or be involved. It also enables them to possibly apply not organized or incorporated. So we strongly supported that and really THAN was the one that I mean I would call THAN up and say you know, call up a Margaret Vizzi and really need to help them do that. They really need it And they would [ say], oh absolutely And they would, you know, they would call them, and help them. So THAN helped us with that organizing as well. RK: As the numbers increased, did you have a greater variety of neighborhoods in terms of class composition, race and so on ? SL: Absolutely. I mean we went by the time we left on April our last day was March 31, 1995 we had, of the 50 some neighborhood associations that existed, it literally was the length and breadth of the city. And when I started, the first day of my job, the 20 were almost exclusively, with the exception of I think three, were exclusively south of Kennedy Boulevard. RK: Can you make any generalizations about the types of concerns of neighborhoods for example in East Tampa, primarily African American an d moderate income, compared to those in South Tampa for example? SL: Well what was interesting was when we worked with East Tampa and also West Tampa, obviously issues of crime, drugs; Sandy had bad timing if you will, when she became mayor, in that some thing hit the streets that had never hit the streets before, and that was crack cocaine. It was, it was a horrible, horrible drug, not just for the user, but the impact it had on our neighborhoods, especially our low income, struggling neighborhoods. When you can sell that drug on the corner, when the police arrive, you
16 can get rid of it quickly with, in you know, it just, it was it had this incredibly horrible effect [and] impact. By the time we left office, we really had gotten a handle on that, that prob lem. And so what I was finding, and it was really kind of refreshing when I would go to their neighborhood association meetings, remembering you know, years before that every single one was, you know, this is a crack house. This is prostitution on this cor ner. To issues of you know, people are speeding our streets. You know, I was sitting on the front porch, and a car just you know, car after car just flew by my house. And I w ould just smile to myself what that told me was a couple things. One, they felt safe enough to sit on their front porch. Because that was not happening [before]. [When] we had me etings in those tougher neighborhoods, if you will, [they] were never at night. They refused to come. And they went home And the second thing it told me was, they realized that there was other factors that impacted their neighborhood other than those tough things like dr ugs. And that was, you know, if people are speeding down my road street if my kids now who suddenly are grandkids can suddenly play out in front of my house, which they t before get hit by a car. So we need sidewalks So I mean, it was just, it was just for me, it was a wonderful, you know feeling, to see how these neighborhoods were transformed given the work that we were doing and the commitment the y were making. RK: Was there a relationship between these newer neighborhood organizations and crime watch efforts? SL: Absolutely, absolutely. As a matter of fact, it was very interesting that there were crime watch people were often times very suspicio us of neighborhood association people, and neighborhood association people were not suspicious of crime watch people, but they neighborhoods that you know, the crime watch said, fine you guys can do whatever you And we did not recognize one group over the other, I mean we would, we would make sure that the crime watch people were informed if they were not a part of the neighborhood a ssociation. But by the time we left office, most neighborhoods welcomed the crime watch folks in, and they shared leadership and responsibility. There was a requirement, for instance to give an example, one tactic I used to try and bring them together wa s there was a requirement for crime watch, that you had to have a neighborhood wide meeting I think it might have been twice a year if I remember correctly. And it was tough sometimes to get people to those meetings. So I would say, e it the same time you have your neighborhood association meeting? And so that would kind of get them to talk, and so satisfy our requirement of the two meetings. But once they got there they realized that
17 there was a lot more in common. And the crime watch people realized now, how Code Enforcement, how Transportation, how a lot of things, zoning, would impact, you know the crime in their communities. So they, they came to work toge ther realizing that they were helping each other out by doing it. Corporations that tried to sometimes, for example, sponsor affordable housing projects. Did you work with t SL: Yes. When we left office, that was the natural, you know neighborhood work has a natural evolution. And just as we were leaving and that was the most disappointing thing for me, was that we were not going to see the city move to the next level. And that was clearly the next level, that they would be able to form one of these community development groups and actually take a very active part in their redevelopment. And get dollars back for it that they could spend in their community. And [in] Tampa Heights, we had started the very first one when we left. And I was very proud of them for doing it, and it was very hopeful as to you know, how that would help them. fairs works primarily with lower income neighborhoods in Tampa. SL: Yes. RK: Did you interact with them, what is their responsibility? SL: I did interact with them quite a bit. You might recall that when Sandy became mayor before her election actually it was during her election, or during the campaign, there department probably better and in a way that had never been mobilized before. She said, you know you, (the depart ment) you need to be our eyes and ears. You need to be in the community, not in your offices. You need to be out there, interacting in these very tough, And you know, she would just get so mad wh en she would have a meeting with some community leaders, business, leaders, and they would say, why are they burning their own grocery stores? And she would just say, how frustrated they are. That it community the same community that they lived in 20 years ago. You know, it has changed and we have failed t hem, and we need to change that. And everybody needs to be a part of it.
18 SL: Oh! SL: So, yeah, so what they were ve ry helpful to me in that they were our eyes and ears. And they would say, boy, you know we really need to get a neighborhood association established here, and we think we can identify a couple leaders for you. And so I would at leadership as best we could, convince them that they needed to take this crazy next step and actually organize. And then I would utilize work with the Community Affairs, that they would actually help think it would have much o meeting notices, or distribute meeting notices and then type up minutes and agendas and then distribute them afterwards, you would think, well, you know, OK, so what? incredibly impor Community Affairs would, would take them under their wing so to speak, and they would send ou t the notices, and they would come up with I mean, they would tell them what they wanted to put on it; they would develop it; they would help pass them out; they would take minutes at the meeting; you know they really were there to support them and prop th em up to make sure that they, you know they got on their you know, got a good start. RK: You mentioned disturbances in Ybor City. Were they in Ybor City or were they in College Hill? RK: Ca n you tell me something about the organization named HOPE? SL: HOPE was an organization that had come into Tampa. They had been, I think originally formed in sure I do know that they were, had had some success of changing some bad problems in Miami, the Miami area. And so they had come to Tampa. And what the group does is organize; it organizes around African American churches, and gets ministers and their congregations involved. And HOPE ca me into Tampa and really, not to their fault I think they were innocent in it, [but] they came into our community believing that our poor areas of the community. And it came in and started organizing these folks and then demanding that City Hall show up to their meetings, and they were tough. I mean, they would put chairs in the front of the congregation with a balloon with your name on it, and make you sit there. And the n they would give a, a slide show presentation and show the worst of the worst in the neighborhood. And you had people in the audience saying, amen, absolutely And then they would go to the question and answer period, ministers or the HOPE organizers would just grill the department heads, and me, on issues. And you could only answer yes or no. And the questions, as you can well imagine
19 you know, were you know, you know, very slanted in the sense [that] they would say, such. And you, you just want to say, and as soon demerit, and I mean, it was... But God love them, and they were certainly God fearing people, at the end of t he meeting, they did a remarkable thing, they would get department heads all worked up because they were so I mean, to make a department head sit on their hands and only say yes or no I say sit on their hands figuratively just killed them. I mean, we had o ne saying no, you know, No. No. But at the end of the meeting they would come full circle and they would say, ho are public servants, who have come out here tonight to meet with us. we make a commitment that we will work with you if go better. And everyone would walk out. My challenge was to meet with the HOPE organization and try to let them understand, make them understand, or at least exp lain to them how they really could plug in and really help us. I mean, by then we had you know, I think over 44 neighborhood partnership programs that which was made up of these congregations, and that I would be working with on a day to day basis on just these issues that they were grilling us about. And I knew that they knew the answer. Because they were out th them of organizing because quite frankly the history in the African American community of trying to get government to be responsive was not a good history. And it took, you know, it took them to raise the ir voices and use those tactics, in their opinion, to try to get our attention. The reality is that they really had our attention before that. But they made it RK: Have they remained active do you know? SL: They have been, they have remained active and matter of fact, my life outside of City Hall, they were always, they were always cordial to meet with me, but there was always tten to know the Executive Director, Sharon Streeter, who remains the Executive Director today who was Executive Director back then. And now I, you know I call her a friend. And actually have helped her get over some issues that they, that they promote. Actually when they first came to town, they were very interested in the quality of life re social
20 those neighborhood quality of life issues that they were able to, you know, to move on to some other things. RK: Was ACORN in the community when you we re at the administration? seem to be incredibly active. Now there might be others that would suggest otherwise they were not a group that certainly, that reached out to me or I reached out to them or really had any interaction with. RK: You mentioned the Growth Management Act of 1985 and the comprehensive plans that had to be adopted by local government. I know during your administration, y ou, I think were the first city on a neighborhood element for the comprehensive plan. RK: OK. Can you speak about that for a little bit? SL: Yea h, when we got everybody organized and working, and you know, by the time 1995 rolled around, things were working you know, like, you know, like clockwork. I that you know, that you know, the group would love me one day and hate me the next day because of some issue. But the bottom line is that they had been organized long enough, they had been active long enough, that they were appreciative that they now had the abilit y of being able to plug into City Hall like they had never done before. That they suddenly realized, well, wait a minute, Sandy Freedman is term limited is this stuff going to go on? And it was THAN and then the president of THAN was a gentleman by the nam e of Jim Beeler. I met with the president of THAN on a monthly basis, and about every six months the mayor would meet with the president of THAN. And so we were, it was about a year left in our term, maybe a little bit more Jim Beeler had one of these regu lar meetings with the mayor and she said you know, is there anything you would like to be something else. And he said, and he was very Jim was very wise about the c omprehensive plan and how important that is to a community. Because a comprehensive plan really is the law, you the state law if you will comprehensive plan, they have to follow it. The com prehensive plan technically only I element which is kind of odd but you can, b ut a jurisdiction can have voluntary elements.
21 And so Jim Beeler said to the mayor at that meeting, he said, I would like to see us put together a neighborhood element. An element for the comprehensive plan on neighborhoods. And she said, that we can get it done that I can get it, you know approved in my term. But certainly if able to sustain that. But she said to have So [she] put together a so she got staff together and said, as she al ways did, she was just should do, and second of all if we should do it and how we should do it. So the first meetings were with staff, and you know, staff said, yeah, we could do it And so she put together she agreed and said And she put together the process which was, again, you know, typical Sandy Freedman, I remember that meeting as it was yesterday she called myself and the zoning manager, the planning director, and I believe the city attorney and she said, single word until you have community meetings thr oughout the community and you ask them what they would like to see in an element a neighborhood element to the comprehensive plan. And so we held four meetings around the city, and were very smart to bring on board a facilitator who received no money, that was Robert Kerstein, Bob Kerstein, Dr. Kerstein, and he led the meetings and we were there just to answer questions, and he helped to really ferret out what the issues were, and what we needed to put in that element. And then the planning commission and t he city staff met and worked and some of those meetings were pretty challenging, but we worked through it [End Tape 1, Side B] ___ [Tape 2, Side A] ground work done got them through the public hearings. And it was not technic ally adopted during our administration, because even though it had been approved, it had to go to Tallahassee through the Department of Community Affairs for them to review it, make comments on it, and send it back. So it actually was formally adopted [in] the early months of the Greco administration, but we actually had gotten it, you know, had gotten it to that point. RK: Do you remember any of the highlights of the plan? go, and I read through it and it really is an it was an amazing document. It really codified, and that was the purpose that I think Jim Beeler certainly had in mind when he suggested it to the ainly the citizen
22 involvement and to guarantee that citizen involvement that it would survive no matter who the mayor was, no matter what the issues might be. As long as there was organized neighborhood associations, the city government was going to recogn ize them and work with them. And while certainly, you know, some things you know probably are dated now, that very basic belief, or, or that very basic need was codified and is in there. And if any mayor wishes to pull it out and take a look at it, you kno w, they could hand it to a staff member and say, office, I had calls from not only communities across the state, but across the country that had heard about that we were doing a neighborhood element, and they they desperately wanted to see our draft and what we were doing. RK: Were you involved with any national organizations during the time you were wi th the administration? which is run by the National Civic League. And we won. I mean, we were, we were ment organization that was started by Teddy Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, and the real their whole purpose is to make sure that there is citizen invol vement in government. And so consequently they were very happy to learn about Tampa and what we were doing; very thrilled about the mayor to the point they actually put her on their Board of Directors she served on the Board of Directors. So I had a lot of interaction with them, not only through the rest of our administration, but to this day I continue to work with them, you know, on my own time so to speak. SL: She was very progressive. She was one that wanted to accomplish something. She was not a caretaker. It was clear very early on in her administration that everybody just amount of time to be there. She had worked very hard to get there, and knew she had some things that she needed to accomplish. I think her biggest disappointment was the fact that things came on the horizon like tough financial times, crack cocaine, you know things that she really had t o devote a lot of time and energy and money towards that she, But as far as how she interacted with each of us, she always asked for our opinion. I really felt, and I did. And three quarters of the time, she would say, interesting perspective, but you know we would move on. But I remember distinctly but I remember distinctly that I had been brought in she had already had a working group that was working on this particular issue, she brought me in, she ran it by me, she wanted she always
23 brought me in, I was, I helped her kind of get a first feeling of how maybe the citizens or the neighborhood associations would react to you know, what she was thinking about doing. She never just relied on that solely, she just wanted to get you know, you know, my feedback since I worked for them on a daily basis. So she brought me in on this p articular issue, we talked about it, and I was very uncomfortable with the way in which we were going to proceed, and so I spoke up, and I was the only person that felt that way. And she said, stand why I said, well, I just felt that I wanted to give my two cents and thank you for letting me do that. So she said, I got to go off to lunch you guys, I want you to start putting som e meat on the bone so to speak, And so she came back from lunch and she started the meeting, she said while I was at lunch, I was thinking about what Steve said, and I I thi nk he has a valid point. And so she took some of what I had suggested and actually changed her mind and changed the plan. To a lot of outsiders I think people thought that Sandy was this you know, driven woman that made decisions behind closed doors, only brought in a couple of people, you know And certainly on the issues I was involved in, that was not the case. RK: What was the black book that she kept? SL: The infamous black book. She had a, she had a little black book, I think it was also purse, but large enough that she could write volumes in it. And she used it, everything from if she was at a if she met with some citizens, even at the grocery store you know it could have been a formal setting or an informal setting. If a citizen said, Sandy, you u know, these watering restrictions, if you can imagine but the amount of information a mayor you know, has to you know hold onto, it was the only way she really could keep it all straight. So she would write things down like that. She would write things down also gee, I wonder if we could do this connected to you know a person if it was a neighborhood issue, they she would say, oh, Steve, come in the office for a second. read the line, you know, can you check on such and such sure. it, sure enough within a couple days, we could be at lunch, we could be at the end of a wait a minute, say, Steve did you ever get a hold of so and so? [St eve replies], [Mayor ], I want you to call that person. If I said yes you that, you know this is what happened, great. item. Often times it would spur anot so
24 it. Bob Buckhorn always used to tease that he was going to do us all a favor and grab that black book and t hrow it away, or we were all going to read it. But she, to the very last day she was in office, I have never seen the inside of that black book that certainly was a, was a privy to a lot of the entries that were in that black book, and she shared them with me as to [they] became tasks for me to accomplish. RK: You were with the administration for several years, what you would you say was your greatest accomplishment? very gen eralities is the fact that when I first started with Sandy, you know, talking about getting real citizen involvement, and real neighborhood involvement was something we th at was the last person in her administration to walk out of office ted back on it, I will tell you that I felt very proud of the fact that we really did accomplish that. That that was a real thing. That citizens were for the very first time, actively involved in issues that impacted their neighborhoods, whether it be crim e, whether it be Code Enforcement, transportation, zoning. By the time we left, Sandy for instance, has required every department, when they put that they actually h ad to write for her, in the budget what were they going to do in the next year to make neighborhoods more involved in their work program and how they were going to meet neighborhood needs. I mean, it was required. So I mean, I think that would probably, I would say is probably the best accomplishment. But there are hundreds other individuals, I mean we had the fact that we became an or you know, facilitated the writing of the neighborhood element. Just the 44 partnership programs we put together. You know all of the big stuff as well as the little stuff. I mean, how I remember you know, bein g in City Hall I mean [it] was a tough place. I mean, association meeting and I would think go. But I will tell you when I got there, and just seeing them organized and active and a part of you know, what they were doing, and playing a role in their security and in their future. I would tel l them at the end, you know, I had a bad day, but man this really was the best way for me to end it, because you guys are just doing great. So it could be something as small as they felt it was a victory that they got the sidewalk in that they wanted. So i t was a great experience, a great opportunity that the mayor gave me, and I loved every, every minute of it.
25 public sector movement that was a very interesting experience. [I] became the Government Affairs Director for the cable company and now presently am the Local Gove rnment Affairs cover six counties. RK: This final question might be unfair, and that is too difficult to answer just off the building, work in the private sector. Can you make any generalizations about the differences? SL: I found it interesting that when I went to the private sector that they have a very government if you worked in government I mean for instance I remember when I first was employed by the cable company and then later with the home builder, both my bosses in both those jobs said to me, this is not like the government sector, you know you p And I would just chuckle to myself, I wish there would have been a day in which I could have walked Sandy Freedman she wanted to do what she wanted to accomplish. And she really broug ht out the best in all of us, and the real true people that wanted to serve people kept in the government were people who truly wanted to do the right thing and serve. about going you know, you doing something on the weekends. It was, it was expected of you but you also knew you wanted to do that. So there was great passion in what we were able to accomplish and s he really set the standard. I remember to give an example, the very last week we were in office. Now mind you, most of the senior staff had left to go to other jobs so we were a skeleton staff, trying to get her packed up, you know, trying to get our admi nistration, you know kind of put aside to let the new administration come in. The last senior staff meeting she came up with a new idea, and she said, what do you think? You think we could do this? And we said, And s he said, thought that maybe if we got started maybe, you know, that Greco would want to continue it. Right up to the last day she was thinking about what we could do differently, how we could change. With the private sec with every mayor for you know, the City of Tampa, or every jurisdiction across the country, but it certainly was true for Sandy Freedman. RK: Thank you very much Steve, I greatly appreciate you speaking with us.
26 SL: This has been fun, thanks.