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As deadline nears, Hillsborough County mayor petition drive stalls

TAMPA — The effort to create an elected mayor for Hillsborough County government is on the ropes.

The leader of that effort acknowledged Tuesday that her group has collected only about 10,000 petition signatures over the past several months. That's less than a quarter of the number needed, assuming some signatures will be ruled invalid, with only a month remaining to meet a deadline to get the question on the November ballot.

Mary Ann Stiles, who heads the Elected County Mayor Political Committee, said the group has not been able to raise the money needed to pay enough people to collect signatures.

"It's going to be hard," Stiles said. "We don't have the money to get all the signatures we need."

Stiles' comments came after she appeared before the county's Charter Review Board. The 14-member board, appointed by county commissioners, could save her the effort of collecting voter signatures by putting the question on the ballot itself.

Instead, the board is considering whether to strip language from the charter that was passed by voters two years ago that would give an elected mayor veto power over commission decisions should the post get created.

Supporters of an elected mayor previously collected signatures needed to ask voters whether to create the post. Because the state constitution requires such ballot initiatives to involve only a single subject, they pursued the veto question separately.

But the mayoral ballot question was removed from the ballot after it was challenged in court, leaving the veto question on its own. It passed.

Some charter board members claim that leaving veto power in the charter is confusing.

Stiles argued that leaving the veto power in the charter does no harm and that, by proposing to eliminate it, the review panel is hampering her efforts to collect signatures.

"I don't understand why they don't understand that the public is confused," Stiles said.

The charter board did agree to consider letting voters decide whether to modify the veto language instead of killing it altogether. Separately, board members agreed to consider letting voters modify the duties and title of the county's internal performance auditor instead of eliminating that post, as is also being considered.

A final public hearing on the veto and auditor questions is scheduled for July 13.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

As deadline nears, Hillsborough County mayor petition drive stalls 06/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 11:38pm]
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