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Regional planning leader's dual roles seen as conflict

TAMPA — The credibility of an ambitious regional planning project is being questioned in light of news that the person guiding the effort had a second job working for large landowners pushing to develop rural southern Hillsborough County.

Officials at the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional business group, said consultant Amy Maguire agreed to sever ties with the landowners this week out of a mutual concern her dual role might be perceived as a conflict of interest.

As of Wednesday, Maguire remained as manager of the regional project the Partnership initiated — one that is getting public dollars — to map out how Tampa Bay should grow for generations to come.

But some county residents and at least one commissioner say Maguire should be ousted from the "One Bay" project because her second job with the land owning coalition has compromised her objectivity.

"Her severing ties with the landowners isn't enough," said Mark Sharpe, District 7 commissioner. "She's got to go. You have to get the public to believe in this process, and you won't do it if it's perceived that this effort is being led by moneyed interests and not the citizens."

The local business leaders who started One Bay stood by Maguire on Wednesday, but they're meeting soon to decide how to proceed.

"We're going to get the five partners together and review what action has been taken and see what other appropriate actions should be taken," said SunTrust Bank president Dan Mahurin, chairman of One Bay.

Mahurin said he learned on Monday that Maguire was consulting for a coalition of 12 landowners who farm about 5,000 acres in southern Hillsborough. Will Redd, manager of Deseret Farms, controlled by the Mormon church, said he formed the group last year to better face challenges like canker.

The group has come up with a development project that would add about 9,000 more homes to the region than what is now allowed. Redd said Maguire was hired late last year to help get these plans approved.

Maguire is also a lobbyist for Southern Strategy, the top grossing lobbying firm in Tallahassee. John Thrasher, a former speaker of the Florida House, also works at the firm and lobbied recently against a statewide effort to restrict growth called Florida Hometown Democracy.

South Hillsborough community activists, who are strongly opposed to suburban sprawl and a possible bypass highway through their semirural area, were already suspicious of One Bay before learning of Maguire's moonlighting.

"My concern is that when you give our visioning process to the very people that would profit from future development, you're not going to get an objective recommendation," said Kelly Cornelius of Lithia.

But Mahurin defended One Bay, arguing that it has involved a diverse group of people.

"One Bay is making an effort to get tens of thousands of hands on the steering wheel to help Tampa Bay grow smarter in the future," he said.

The Partnership hired Maguire to lead a regional "visioning effort'' that held workshops throughout the seven-county region last year. A variety of public and private sources financed it, including $50,000 from the Tampa Bay Builders Association and $25,000 each from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Aside from the Partnership, four other organizations lead One Bay: the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and a local committee of the Urban Land Institute made up of development insiders.

One Bay tallies the results of workshops, where developers, government officials, corporate executives and neighborhood leaders brainstorm about how the Tampa Bay area should grow.

In January, Hillsborough County commissioners, citing budget restraints, rejected a request by the Planning Commission to spend $100,000 to plan for growth up to 2050.

In the meantime, a majority of commissioners have turned to One Bay for planning help.

"It's a conduit of information for the whole region," said Commissioner Al Higginbotham. "That's where I'm frustrated. I want the support of everyone. If no one will buy in, then it won't do anything."

Maguire should have disclosed her other job, he said, but stopped short of saying she should resign.

"That's between her and the people she answers to," he said.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402. Mike Brassfield can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or brassfield@sptimes.com.

Regional planning leader's dual roles seen as conflict 04/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 5:21pm]
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