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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Mark Sharpe finally picked as Hillsborough County Commission chairman

14

November

Mark Sharpe will finally get to serve as chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission in his final year on the board.

Commissioners voted 4-3 to make Sharpe their chairman, a year-long largely ceremonial position he has coveted for the past few years but failed to win. He leaves the board after eight years in 2014 due to term limits.

"I'm honored," Sharpe said. "And I'm very eager to serve this board and the citizens in this capacity."

The annual ritual is often a time of political wrangling and intrigue, with scores settled between commissioners and subtle digs made, even though the title comes with little additional authority but does net a $10,000 pay hike. This year's signals were of the subtler variety.

The meeting generally starts with a gift-giving presentation to the outgoing chairman, and that person has been Ken Hagan for five of the past six years. Last year commissioners got him a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey jersey with his name on it, the year before a baseball bat that his colleagues autographed, recognitions of his advocacy for sports.

This year's gift: a voucher to adopt a puppy from Hillsborough County's animal shelter, with the costs of spaying or neutering, vaccinations, registration and microchip included. His face did not show quite the level of excitement as it has the past two years.

Hagan has pushed for a change in direction at the animal shelter in favor of having fewer dogs euthanized and more adopted, a move that has appeared politically calculated at times, while there is little doubt about his enthusiasm for sports.

He has no pets at his home now, despite his push for others to adopt. He said he actually does have a dog, but that it lives with his parents.

Meanwhile, the transition at the shelter has not gone smoothly so far, with kennels weathering disease outbreaks in part because of crowded conditions with animals getting held longer. Former employees have complained of management problems, though adoptions are indeed up, and the seemingly noble goal of reducing the number of animals killed has stirred loud and lingering controversy. Dogs aren't even available for adoption right now because of a disease outbreak.

Even Commissioner Sandra Murman, who as vice chairwoman presented the gift and proclamation recognizing his service to people and animals, acknowledged that Hagan has told her in the past that he didn't want a pet. She summoned him into camera view to accept the proclamation, though he had dressed casually, not in his usual suit-and-tie meeting attire.

Hagan said "not so" after the meeting to the idea he doesn't want a pet. The problem has been that his wife travels frequently for work and the job keeps him busy, making caring for a pet a challenge. But he said his two children are getting to an age that they can help with the pet chores, so they have actually been thinking of getting a dog.

He saw no dig in the gift choice.

"I'm absolutely getting a puppy and I'm pumped about it." Hagan said.

Murman said there was no dig intended either, beyond gentle encouragement to practice what he preaches now that the kids have grown to an age that they can help take care of a pup.

"He's such a supporter of Animal Services that he does kind of need a pet at home," Murman said. "I certainly hope he gets one."

As for Sharpe, the split vote for his chairmanship carried less of a message, at least to him. Commissioner Victor Crist proposed a slate for the board's chairman, vice chairman and chaplain, with Sharpe as chairman, Murman again as vice chair and Les Miller returning as chaplain. Hagan then presented his own slate, also with Sharpe as chairman, but with Miller as vice chairman and Al Higginbotham as chaplain. 

Higginbotham said he wasn't interested. Nor was Crist, Hagan's next suggestion for chaplain. Their decisions to decline suggested that the Crist slate had the edge, and indeed it did.

Sharpe said he will continue to push for transportation improvements and diversifying the jobs base. But he said he will do so by working from a point of trying to build consensus among board members.

"The challenge is to find a balance that will enable us to move forward," he said.

 

[Last modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013 7:39pm]

    

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