TAMPA — Mark Sharpe will finally get to serve as chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission in his final year on the board.
Commissioners voted 4-3 to make Sharpe their chairman, a yearlong largely ceremonial position he has coveted for the past few years but failed to win. He leaves the board after eight years in 2014 due to term limits.
"I'm honored," he said. "And I'm very eager to serve this board and the citizens in this capacity."
The annual ritual is often a time of political intrigue, with scores settled between commissioners and subtle digs made, even though the title comes with little additional authority, though it does net a $10,000 pay hike. This year's signals were of the subtler variety.
The meeting generally starts with a gift-giving presentation to the outgoing chairman, and that person has been Ken Hagan for five of the past six years. Last year commissioners got him a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey jersey with his name on it. The year before, a baseball bat that his colleagues autographed, recognitions of his advocacy for sports.
This year's gift: a voucher to adopt a puppy from Hillsborough County's animal shelter, with the costs of spaying or neutering, vaccinations, registration and microchip included. His face did not show quite the level of excitement as it has the past two years.
Hagan has pushed for a change in direction at the animal shelter in favor of having fewer dogs euthanized and more adopted, a move that has appeared politically calculated at times, while there is little doubt about his enthusiasm for sports.
Despite his push for others to adopt, he has no pets at his home now. He said he does have a dog, but it lives with his parents.
The transition at the shelter has not gone smoothly. The goal of reducing the number of animals killed has stirred loud and lingering controversy. Dogs aren't even available for adoptions right now because of an illness outbreak at the shelter.
Commissioner Sandra Murman, who as vice chairwoman presented the gift and proclamation recognizing his service to people and animals, acknowledged that Hagan has told her in the past that he didn't want a pet.
Hagan said after the meeting the idea that he doesn't want a pet is not so. The problem has been that his wife travels frequently for work and the commission job keeps him busy, making caring for a pet a challenge.
But he said his two children are getting to an age that they can help with the pet chores, so they have been thinking of getting a dog, which the kids want.
He saw no dig in the gift.
"I'm absolutely getting a puppy, and I'm pumped about it," he said.
Murman also said there was no dig intended, beyond gentle encouragement to practice what he preaches.
"He's such a supporter of Animal Services that he does kind of need a pet at home," she said. "I certainly hope he gets one."
As for Sharpe, the split vote for his chairmanship carried less of a message, at least to him. He headed the list of both sets of nominations presented for chairman, vice chairman and chaplain.