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Attorney: Constitution doesn't allow county mayor to veto budget

BRANDON — The amendment that would give a county mayor veto power is unconstitutional, the county attorney told commissioners Thursday.

Even though Hillsborough County voters passed it last month 53 percent to 47 percent, attorney Renee Lee sought the commissioners' permission to go to court in hopes that a judge would throw it out.

But a majority of the commissioners said they would not act against the amendment, fearing they would be seen as doing so simply because they're against having a county mayor.

"It's going to be perceived that we're taking citizens' initiative and as a board striking it down," newly-elected Commissioner Kevin Beckner said. "I don't want to be entangled in that kind of perception."

Commissioners Rose Ferlita, Mark Sharpe and Jim Norman also said they wouldn't vote to take it to court.

But Commissioner Ken Hagan said he didn't understand why they were afraid.

"What part don't we understand?" Hagan said. "It's illegal."

Mary Ann Stiles, an attorney-lobbyist who worked to pass the amendment, said it is legal because a state statute allows for a county mayor with veto power.

But Lee pointed to the part of the amendment that would give the mayor power to veto the county's budget or items within the budget. The procedure for setting the budget are detailed in the state Constitution and don't allow for anyone to have veto power, she said.

"And we can't on the local governing level enact something that's in conflict with the general law," she said.

Right now, the amendment doesn't affect county government because there isn't a county mayor. The proposal to amend the charter and create the post didn't make it to the November ballot.

Lee and County Administrator Pat Bean, who has argued against creating a county mayor post, focused on the language of the amendment, not their opinion about the proposal. It's just worded wrong, they said.

"It's flawed," Bean said.

But that was less of a concern to the commissioners.

"We made it very clear where we stood: That we didn't support the county mayor," Sharpe said. "We'd end up making it look as though we are using another legal maneuver to undo a citizen initiative."

Given the lack of support from the commission for a legal challenge, "it's dead in the water," Lee said.

But that wouldn't stop any residents from filing their own complaint, she added.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Attorney: Constitution doesn't allow county mayor to veto budget 12/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 1:30pm]
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