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Tampa council wants citizens seen, not heard, at workshops

Neighborhood leaders frustrated by the Tampa City Council's efforts to squash public comment at workshops are getting some unexpected support in Tallahassee.

The "Voice of the People Act" (HB 991 and SB 2276) would require governing bodies to allow at least 15 minutes of public comment before every meeting. Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The act states that some local governments unfairly curb citizen participation by dubbing items as workshops or discussions.

Coincidentally, the Tampa City Council this week is scheduled to take a final vote on a resolution that would generally not allow the public to speak during monthly workshops.

Council members Mary Mulhern and Tom Scott have argued most strongly for the measure, saying workshops allow them to talk to each other without violating the Sunshine Law. They say citizens have plenty of time to weigh in at regular meetings when items are scheduled for action.

Neighborhood folks hate the idea, saying they want the chance to share their views before matters are set for a vote.

"We are not here to cause trouble," longtime neighborhood advocate Sue Lyon told the council on April 3. "If you cut us off at the knees, it's going to be really bad for everybody."

She's not their type

When the people behind the One Bay visioning exercise got started, they sent an invite and application to former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt.

Makes sense. Platt may be the only person who has served as chairwoman of three organizations that span the region: the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the Agency on Bay Management and the old West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority.

The long-term visioning effort, initiated by the business group Tampa Bay Partnership, has been dogged by criticism that it is being driven by developers. So what happened to the application from Platt, a favorite among environmentalists and growth management advocates?

"A couple of weeks later I got a letter of rejection," Platt said. "I figured finally someone was happy to be able to reject me."

Trust in transit group

It has little ability to influence mass transit in Tampa, but the City Council on Thursday passed a resolution showing its support for state funding of the agency that does.

A bill in the Florida Legislature sponsored by Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would direct $19-million in rental car surcharges to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority ­— or TBARTA. The authority, which comprises representatives from seven Tampa Bay area counties, was created last year to develop transportation plans, including transit, for the region.

Gov. Charlie Crist last year vetoed a $1-million appropriation in startup costs.

So Galvano introduced his bill, which also would provide funding to two of the state's other transportation authorities. The Florida Department of Transportation opposes the legislation, saying it takes money away from it. But TBARTA and the City Council want Galvano to offer a compromise the Transportation Department.

"TBARTA is so important to the future of transit in our area," said Linda Saul-Sena, who proposed the council's resolution. "It needs a source of funding."

Cash for campaigns

Wimauma resident Beverly Harris has raised more than $7,300 in her run for Hillsborough County tax collector against incumbent Doug Belden. Nearly all of her donations have come from individuals and businesses with addresses on the east coast of Florida.

In other local campaign finance news: The latest reports show Sheriff David Gee, who so far has no opponent, has raised more than $221,000. By comparison, Belden, who has two opponents, has raised $163,226; County Commissioner Brian Blair, who faces two challengers, has raised $141,307; and Property Appraiser Rob Turner, who has one challenger, has raised only $33,214.

Janet Zink and Bill Varian contributed to this report.

Tampa council wants citizens seen, not heard, at workshops 04/11/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2008 10:44pm]
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