TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to deprive candidates seeking elected office a potential soapbox to advance their campaigns.
The board voted 5-1 to prohibit declared candidates for office from serving on county boards and councils to which commissioners appoint representatives. The policy amendment also requires people already serving on an appointed board to report their candidacy for office so that commissioners can vote to remove them.
"The fact of the matter is that we have seen people that we appoint to these boards … become candidates and used those boards to put forth their platform when they should not be doing that," said Commissioner Les Miller, who proposed the measure.
Miller, a Democrat, cited as an example, though not by name, a Republican primary challenger to sitting Commissioner Victor Crist last year.
Crist had appointed Sharon Calvert to the county's main citizen's advisory panel and Miller claimed Calvert used the appointment to advance her campaign and denigrate Crist.
But it was actually Crist who provided the lone no vote Wednesday, while expressing appreciation for the proposal. The policy would not apply to commissioners, who also serve on other panels.
"We serve on boards and we serve in a capacity that gives us the ability to vocalize our position, either for re-election or election to another position," Crist said. "And to say that people who we appoint to boards can't do the same, I think, is a double standard."
Miller's proposal came up two weeks after socially conservative activist Terry Kemple sought a position on a proposed diversity advisory panel.
Miller insists he's not targeting Kemple, but the eligibility change would appear to disqualify him from consideration.
Kemple is a declared candidate for the Hillsborough County School Board.
That fact also would appear to cause commissioners to remove him from the county's Human Relations Board.
"I'm actually kind of flabbergasted that it passed," Kemple said. "It's not only hypocritical, it does create a double standard."
Miller's policy change underscores that county appointees serve at the will of the County Commission. And the wording that applies for sitting committee members who then run for office says commissioners would have the "responsibility to remove the person."
Commissioner Sandy Murman expressed concern about that. But Miller said a final decision would be made by a vote of the County Commission.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham had left the meeting room and was not present for the vote.