TAMPA — Critics of a proposal to create a Hillsborough County mayor have dismissed its backers as a bunch of has-been politicians led by disgruntled lawyer Mary Ann Stiles.
That criticism is getting harder to back up.
After a slow start, Stiles has formed a pair of committees that, combined, now number 45 members. The groups include a cross section of civic leaders, activists and average citizens, and they may be showing up at a community meeting near you.
"There is a broad base of support from across the entire county to change government," Stiles said. "They believe that a system with checks and balances as envisioned by our forefathers will work in this county."
Sure, there are some past political candidates, some who have enjoyed success, some who didn't and others who had abbreviated careers. And many of the committee members can be described as friends of Mary Ann Stiles'.
It's not an A-list of Hillsborough County power brokers. But it's not a group that can be easily dismissed any longer either.
There are diehard Republicans, yellow-dog Democrats and a few independents backing the proposal to create an elected, nonpartisan county mayor. There are lawyers and marketing people, bankers and doctors, hailing from Lutz, Brandon and Hyde Park.
Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda has signed on. He was joined this week by council colleague Gwen Miller and her husband, former state Sen. Les Miller.
Stiles has them singing from the same hymnal.
"I think that the time has come for our county government to take a different shape and form, and start to work like our state and federal government, where you have a check-and-balance system, with executive and legislative branches," Les Miller said.
Stiles initiated the effort more than two years ago but failed to collect enough petition signatures to get the issue on the 2006 ballot. She secured the necessary number for this November's election.
She got started in protest, angered by commission meddling with the county's bus agency, for which she served as a lobbyist. But her group has been largely dormant since its petition drive, until Stiles named members of the executive and steering committees in recent weeks.
Committee members reached by the Times voiced a shared desire to have an elected county mayor charting a course for Hillsborough's future on major issues, such as transportation. They emphasized their desire for creating checks and balances with an elected mayor, rather than an administrator appointed by commissioners.
"Hillsborough County is run by a committee," said lawyer Andy Graham. "No one has ever built a statue to a committee. The system is dysfunction. It gives great power to the administrator, who is unelected and unaccountable to the people."
Several made comparisons to the state and federal government, saying what's good for them should be good for the county.
"If people believe running the county with a committee works, they should be for dispensing with the position of governor and letting the legislature run everything," said David Hurley, president of Landmark Engineering & Surveying Corp. "That gives me the full body shivers."
Most of the members reached said they are active raising money for the campaign. They're also taking their argument to any group that will grant them an audience.
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.
Bob Samuels, retired banker.
Fred Karl, retired former legislator, Florida Supreme Court justice and county administrator.
Dottie Berger MacKinnon, former Hillsborough County commissioner, elected in 1994, defeated in 1998.
Bob Buckhorn, public affairs consultant, former Tampa City Council member, ran unsuccessfully for Tampa mayor in 2003 and County Commission in 2004.
B.J. Newberger, lobbyist.
Sandra Murman, former state legislator.
Mary Figg, former state legislator.
David Hurley, engineering company owner. George Levy, retired trophy shop owner, manager of former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco's election campaign.
Mary Ann Stiles, lawyer/lobbyist; director, Platinum Bank.
Stanley Gray, employee assistance company owner.
Sheila McDevitt, lawyer, chairwoman of Board of Governors, former senior vice president-general counsel for TECO Energy.
Gil Sanchez, lawyer.
Laura Woodard, public relations and marketing company owner.
Eric Brown, consulting and construction company owner.
Gwen Miller, Tampa City Council member.
Les Miller, former state legislator. Steering committee
James "Big Jim" Selvey, real estate, former Hillsborough County commissioner.
Carole Mehlman, immigration lawyer, activist.
Benedict S. Maniscalco, doctor.
Deb Tamargo, former state legislator, unsuccessful candidate for County Commission, 1996.
Steve Harper, human resource assistance.
Tyrone Keyes, nonprofit head, former pro football player.
Chris Nicolas, beverage company manager.
Barry Smith, sports marketing, former pro football player, husband of Stiles.
Andy Graham, lawyer.
Daphne Boyd, sports marketer.
Mark Proctor, political consultant, real estate broker, Tampa Sports Authority member, was an organizing director of Platinum Bank.
Jan Gorrie, lawyer/lobbyist.
Al Fox, activist for opening relations with Cuba.
Paddy Moses, retired, former personnel consulting company owner and unsuccessful 1994 County Commission candidate.
Leo Diaz, retired Hillsborough Community College executive.
Sandra Kreul, health care.
Ed Gonzalez, dentist; director, Platinum Bank.
Mayling Gonzalez, homemaker.
Cindy Argerious, mortgage lender.
John B. Noriega, pharmacist.
Charlie Miranda, Tampa City Council member; unsuccessful candidate for Tampa mayor, 2003.
Judi Breuggeman, former aide to Greco.
Amy Nicolas, homemaker.
Paula Everton, insurance company owner.
Brenda Orcutt, homemaker.
Hollace McPhillips, artist.
Aakash M. Patel, board member of Indo-U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
John McAllister, insurance.