Hillsborough commissioners return to fractious form
It was supposed to be a day in which they celebrated their newfound collegial manner.
Then the smoke monster returned to the Hillsborough County Commission chambers Wednesday.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner proposed that commissioners make what he acknowledged was a symbolic gesture: Pledge that, if there's ever a need again to cut employees salaries or benefits, commissioners take the same relative hit. But after making his case several times that a policy to that effect would show leadership, he failed to muster a second.
Sandra Murman offered a separate proposal to let commissioners cut their salaries if they so choose, which a recent state law and the county's charter already allow. Chairman Ken Hagan seconded that idea.
Then Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who was on a bathroom break, returned to say he would support Beckner's original proposal. Hagan and Commissioner Les Miller had the board's parliamentarian confirm that, under Roberts Rules of Order, neither Beckner nor Higginbotham could put forward the original motion since it had already died.
"Parliamentary trickery at its finest," Beckner said.
"It's not parliamentary trickery," Miller shot back. "It's following the rules."
The two proceeded to talk over each other for a few tense moments, with Miller saying Beckner was simply trying to throw the rest of the commission under the bus to score political points.
Hagan, until that exchange, had made the case that commissioners have already shown leadership on the issue in the past. When Higginbotham floated a proposal four years ago for commissioners to accept a pay cut, Hagan noted that he came up with the idea to reduce board members' auto allowance and accept other cutbacks.
As the Miller-Beckner melee wound down, Hagan boiled over.
"Please stop the campaign rhetoric," he told Beckner.
In the preceding back and forth, Murman announced that she will soon volunteer to take a pay cut. After the meeting, she said it will be at least 3 percent, and she will ask that the money be directed to an initiative for the homeless she plans to pursue soon.
"I think a real leader is me saying I'm going to voluntarily take a reduction," Murman said.
With the economy showing signs of improvement, and County Administrator Mike Merrill saying recently he hopes to give employees a pay boost toward the end of this year, even using the words "pay cut" is liable to send shockwaves around County Center, she said.
"To have the words 'staff pay cut' sends a terrible, fearful message," Murman said.
Reached later, Beckner accused Hagan of watering down Higginbotham's pay cut proposal from four years ago. And while he complimented Murman on her gesture, he said it was grandstanding to announce it prospectively at the meeting. Grandstanding is precisely what other board members say Beckner was doing.
Asked if he'd be coming forward to announce his own pay cut, "I would certainly bring it forward for consideration," Beckner said. "But any cut I do to my own pay I would want to make sure it has meaning for our employees."
Earlier in the day, commissioners spent several moments applauding an agreement reached by staff to jointly purchase $34.2 million worth of budget, finance and human resources software with the city of Tampa. They held the deal and unanimous vote up as symbolizing the new attitude at the county, one in which teamwork is emphasized over infighting.
Beckner's proposal came at the end of the meeting. The vote was followed by the commission's afternoon public comment period, which drew one speaker. It was Largo resident Mark Klutho, an activist who regularly addresses the board to blast them on their failure to build and operate energy efficient buildings.
"You people are nothing but hot air," he said as a final exclamation point on the day. "You just repeat yourselves over and over and over again."