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Hillsborough commissioners name environmental lands program after Jan Platt

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to name its popular land-preservation program for its originator, former board member Jan Platt.

Known as "Commissioner No" for her stubborn refusal to bend to developers and other elected officials, Platt, 77, came up with the idea for the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program in the 1980s. It was approved by voters 25 years ago and has since preserved more than 61,000 acres of county land at a cost of about $254 million, with two-thirds coming from property taxes.

Commissioners showered Platt with praise for her perseverance and dedication as a public servant. They also dismissed criticism from a few environmentalists who said the idea was hatched in haste and that the program shouldn't be politicized by attaching one person's name to it.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner acknowledged that the proposal he floated last month was spontaneous. It came as the board was celebrating the 25th anniversary of ELAPP, and Beckner said he realized during that presentation that the program and environmental stewardship are among Platt's most enduring legacies.

"My suggestion did not come out of nowhere," he said. "It came from the heart. And sometimes when you're sitting up here on this dais and you hear things as they move forward, there are things that come to your heart and you just believe are just the right thing to do."

A small crowd of Platt's friends and family, including her husband, son, and former commissioner, state Sen. and University of South Florida president Betty Castor were on hand in support. So were several current and past county employees.

"This means so much to me," Platt told commissioners. "I just thank you so much for recognizing the importance of this program."

One by one, each of the seven county commissioners took a moment to praise Platt both for coming up with the idea for ELAPP and for her years of public service, as a commissioner and with the Tampa City Council. At a time when politics nationally is defined by partisan gridlock, it was notable that the praise for Platt, a Democrat, was offered in equal measure by the board's five Republican members.

"At a time when I think the public confidence in our elected officials is so low, to have individuals who are willing to get into the arena and, irrespective of party affiliation or your position, conduct yourself with such honor, integrity and character at all times and walk away with your head held high and people respecting you says so much about you," said Republican Commissioner Mark Sharpe.

Republican Commissioner Sandra Murman, the lone woman on the board, praised Platt as a role model for young females.

And Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, also a Republican, dismissed concerns raised by some that attaching a name to the program could cause people to waver in supporting it. He noted that about 80 percent of voters in 2008 authorized an extension of ELAPP.

"Anyone that would not support ELAPP simply because of who the program is named after is likely among the 20 percent that voted against it anyway," Hagan said. "There is no one more deserving of this honor than Jan."

Playing on her nickname, Commissioner Victor Crist asked County Attorney Chip Fletcher if board members could each vote no but have those votes each recorded as a yes as a salute. As Fletcher looked around uncomfortably and other board members glanced at Crist sideways, he withdrew the suggestion.

Commissioners presented Platt with a mounted placard to memorialize the occasion.

It credits her with helping preserve thousands of acres for future generations to enjoy. It concluded: "You have provided a legacy of serene places to visit, glorifying the natural beauty of Hillsborough County."

Times staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report. Reach Bill Varian at (813) 226-3387 or varian@tampabay.com.

Hillsborough commissioners name environmental lands program after Jan Platt 10/16/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 11:28pm]
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