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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Chairman rotation proposal for Hillsborough County Commission now looks doubtful



TAMPA — An attempt to take the politics out of the annual Hillsborough County Commission chairman selection appears headed toward the rocks, a victim of politics.

Republican insiders have rallied in opposition to Democrat Les Miller’s proposal to rotate the position instead of having commissioners vote among themselves to pick their leader. They say the idea snubs the will of voters, who have elected a 5-2 Republican supermajority to the board, by making it easier for a Democrat to lead it.

Now two Republican commissioners, including one who repeatedly has been passed over for the job by his colleagues, say they are leaning against Miller’s proposal.

“How do you create the best football team?” said Commissioner Mark Sharpe. “Do you let everyone rotate in at quarterback? I don’t think so.”

Just two weeks ago, Sharpe told Miller, “I like what you’re trying to do.” Now he and Commissioner Sandra Murman — who recently said she was “fully supportive” of Miller’s plan — are not so much.

That would leave Commissioner Ken Hagan, now the chairman, as the only remaining supporter of the concept among Republicans. It would seem unlikely that he would buck his party to remain with Miller and Democrat Kevin Beckner in backing the idea.

An attempt to reach Hagan was unsuccessful. Miller also could not be reached.

Both Sharpe and Murman say they are leaning toward a proposal by Republican political consultant and blogger Chris Ingram. He contends that commissioners should still pick a chairman by voting amongst themselves. But to partly address one of Miller’s concerns — that the annual contest results in needless backbiting — he says no board member should serve more than once every four years.

That’s like a rotation, Sharpe and Murman said.

Commissioners elected Hagan as chairman this year for the fourth time in five years. That followed weeks of lobbying by Hagan supporters and other commissioners who wanted the job. Most of the commissioners, including Hagan, said it was the nastiest year of arm twisting they could recall.

The job is largely ceremonial, but comes with a $10,000 annual stipend and greater recognition.

"I applaud Les Miller,” Ingram said. “But I think his idea goes too far and is too complicated and I think to some extent is a Democratic power play.”

Miller’s proposal would give everyone on the board a chance to be its chairman. The job would move from one seat to the next, in roughly numerical order by district.

Commissioners tentatively voted 5-2 last month to move the idea forward, with Victor Crist and Al Higginbotham, the outgoing chairman, voting no. A change of heart by Sharpe and Murman would mean Miller’s proposal most likely will die.

That’s what many Republican insiders said should happen when that party’s county-level executive committee met that same week. The topic is scheduled for a formal discussion at the next party meeting on Dec. 13.

“To suggest every member of the County Commission should be chairman and would do a good job strains credulity,” said party treasurer Josh Burgin, speaking for himself, not the party.

Ingram said commissioners should have to decide for themselves who they think is best suited to be chairman and not simply submit to “Russian roullette.”

“If we had had this proposal of Les Miller’s in place, there’s a pretty good chance that Kevin White, just by virtue of being next in line, would have been commission chairman,” Ingram said of the ex-commissioner and Democrat awaiting sentencing on bribery charges. “At the same time he was chasing skirts and taking bribes from tow truck operates, he could have been chairman. That would have been a disgrace.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 8:58pm]


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