TAMPA — Three weeks after tentatively approving a plan to rotate their chairmanship, Hillsborough County commissioners backtracked Wednesday, with Republicans leading the reversal.
Both Democrats, Les Miller and Kevin Beckner, gave impassioned pleas for their colleagues to stick with the plan. Miller read transcripts from past meetings in which nearly every board member spoke of the merits of a rotating system to end the backbiting that precedes the annual selection of a board chairman.
Miller had proposed the idea in response to what he saw as undue influence by outside forces in selecting who leads the commission. He wondered aloud if those same outside forces got to commissioners who had previously said his idea was a good one.
"I implore you to free yourselves today," Miller said.
Beckner also encouraged his colleagues to do what he said they know is the right thing. The position, he added, has been repeatedly used to settle scores among supporters of individual commissioners. Speaking directly to Commissioner Mark Sharpe, Beckner noted that Sharpe had been the victim of just that sort of leveraging.
"You know in your hearts this is the right policy," Beckner said.
Sharpe said he initially thought rotating the chairmanship was a good idea, but had second thoughts. Under Miller's proposal, he would have been chairman next year after getting passed over repeatedly by his fellow Republicans. But he said he ultimately thinks commissioners should have to vote on who will lead them.
"I don't want my power (to choose a chairman) taken away from me because of outside pressure," Sharpe said.
Each year's bid for the chairmanship attracts a great deal of lobbying by friends of commissioners. The position carries no real power, though the chairman collects an extra $10,000 in pay.
Sharpe, current Chairman Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman, each Republicans who previously supported the rotation idea, reversed themselves Wednesday. Neither Hagan nor Murman spoke during the discussion. Commissioner Al Higginbotham maintained his opposition to the idea.
Victor Crist, another Republican on the board, reversed himself and joined the two Democrats in voting for the rotation while taking exception to how it will initially be implemented.