TAMPA, Fla — In the wake of Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder's resignation amid a lawsuit and ethics concern, ABC Action News has learned details about how Councilman Dingfelder was involved in a private property applying for a land-use change.
Dingfelder, who is a realtor on the side, was helping the owners of this private property adjacent to Woodlawn Cemetery sell it. He was involved in the deal years before he became a city councilman.
“He did represent the property for at least five years and that was a little shocking when we first heard that because he has city Council,” said Aileen Henderson, a woman who adamantly opposed development on that private property.
He told ABC Action News he took it on because the owners, the same people who own Showmen's Rest, a cemetery for circus performers, are family friends; and because he thought he knew a few churches that would be interested in buying. He said one of them was even under contract, but the deal fell through.
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In 2021, a developer was interested in buying it, but first, they’d need to change the land use in order to build townhomes.
According to a 53-page planning commission report, Dingfelder met with the developers, Skyline 41, and the Executive Planner at Plan Hillsborough in April. Shortly after that meeting, Plan Hillsborough gave them the green light to use that meeting as the “pre-application meeting” for a plan Amendment, the first step in getting a land-use change.
"It’s just not process. It wasn’t something that we felt they were following the letter of the law,” said Henderson.
But, Dingfelder said the city attorney approached him last year about a new Florida Ethics Committee opinion. Based on that, he said she told him his involvement with the property wasn’t appropriate. He said it was so new, no one even knew about it, but when he was made aware, he immediately dropped those clients. He also said he never made a penny from that involvement.
According to his text messages, and the City Attorney's Notes, Dingfelder attempted to secure two attorneys to represent the developer. One ended up doing that. Dingfelder asked that attorney about the planning commission meeting and the “positive staff report regarding the cemetery. “
The City attorney noted those moves violated the city’s ethics code.
Dingfelder did not participate in the voting process in September or February on that land-use change, and ultimately, his fellow city council members voted to keep it listed as a cemetery.
“Government is very detailed, very tricky intricate, intricate and it’s not simple. And it could very well be that it was a misunderstanding that perhaps he didn’t see or he felt he was being transparent,” said Henderson.
She said while he should face whatever consequences may come, she doesn’t think he needed to resign.
“A resignation, I think that’s a bit harsh and I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Because, he’s done a lot of good things, a lot of good things, and unfortunately in our society, we don’t always look at all of the good we’ve done, we focus on that one bad. And that’s not OK.”
Dingfelder told ABC Action News' Heather Leigh, “This is a mean-spirited attack from different directions and various people are trying to pile on.” He also said he, “will vigorously defend himself if and when this becomes a formal ethics charge."