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Hillsborough commission to consider rotating chairman

TAMPA — Picking a board chairman is one of the more painful political decisions Hillsborough County commissioners make each year.

Arms get twisted by supporters of those vying for the title and the $10,000 stipend that comes with it. Feelings get hurt by the inevitable snubs.

"It creates bad feelings between the board members and puts them unnecessarily at odds," said Commissioner Victor Crist. "That creates a negative environment that lasts through the year."

So Crist is reviving an idea that the board has rejected before, most recently in 2011. He wants to create a rotation starting next year with Sandra Murman, the District 1 office holder who happens to have been passed over the last three years.

(Unless, of course, she gets picked as lieutenant governor. Her name is on a short list of people Gov. Rick Scott is considering for the vacant position.)

After Murman, the next chairman would be the District 2 office holder, Crist, on down to District 7, then start over again.

In a wrinkle, Crist is proposing that commissioners have the ability to skip a seat if the person in it doesn't want the largely ceremonial job that means attending lots of ribbon cuttings. They could also skip someone they don't care to have represent them.

"You've got to have a safeguard in there in case you had someone like a Kevin White," said Crist, referring to the former county commissioner who before getting sent to prison for accepting bribes was found by a jury to have sexually harassed one of his aides.

Commissioners will take up Crist's idea at their annual retreat on Dec. 8.

There's no telling whether the proposal has any better chance of passing this time than last. The same board members were serving on the commission when they voted 4-3 to reject the notion. They said at the time that they should not relinquish their ability to pick who leads them.

After initially opposing the idea, Crist was the lone Republican to join in supporting the board's two Democrats, Kevin Beckner and Les Miller, who had suggested the concept then in the interest of greater harmony.

Republican activists let it be known that they were not happy with the idea. The party's executive committee even held a vote to demonstrate its opposition.

With a 5-2 super-majority on the commission, Republicans say its leader should reflect the will of the people as reflected in the board's makeup. Some reached recently say they still feel the same way.

"If you're afraid to get in the ring, don't run," said Republican political consultant and blogger Chris Ingram, who fought the idea last time. "The idea of rotating rather than picking the best person suited for the job is just preposterous."

Republican political consultant Anthony Pedicini says the proposal is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. It's not like Democrats are unable to have their issues heard, and often approved, despite the Republican majority. Just look, he said, at its recent repeal of a policy banning county recognition of gay pride events.

"This is a very non-partisan board policy-wise, more so than in years past," Pedicini said.

Those sentiments seem to be shared by other Republicans on the board.

Murman, who would be the next chairwoman, said she appreciates what Crist is trying to achieve. The annual selection does cause behind-the-scenes drama, she acknowledged, and this would help address it, making Hillsborough more like Pinellas and Pasco counties, which use some form of rotating chairmen.

Despite that, she added, "I'm not totally an affirmative vote yet, but I think it's time to have that discussion."

Current Chairman Mark Sharpe, who, like Murman, also had been passed over in the past, nevertheless opposed the concept the last go around. But he's keeping an open mind. He leaves the board after eight years in 2014 due to term limits, so it won't affect him.

He said the board has had a way of figuring out who best to lead it at the right time, in recent years that being Commission Ken Hagan. Sharpe said he's not sure commissioners should abandon that ability to choose.

Besides, he joked, "Now that I got picked, I kind of like this process."

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

Hillsborough commission to consider rotating chairman 11/25/13 [Last modified: Monday, November 25, 2013 11:47pm]
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