Hillsborough County removes name from Moral Courage Award; honors Busansky with new award

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission took two votes about the names of awards Wednesday.

Commissioners voted to remove the name of Ralph Hughes from its Moral Courage Award, which honors those with integrity and ethics who stand up to the government for the community good.

And they created a separate We the People Award in honor of former Supervisor of Elections Phyllis Busansky, who died last month.

Both decisions were unanimous.

Hughes was a Republican advocate of smaller government who financially backed political candidates who shared his views and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on conservative political causes and campaigns.

He was 77 when he died in June 2008 and the subject of controversy when Commissioner Jim Norman suggested his name for the county's most prestigious citizen award, which was established without a name in 1991.

One recipient even returned her award in protest over the decision.

In May, the Internal Revenue Service filed a claim saying Hughes and his business owed $69.3 million in unpaid taxes and interest when he died. His family disputes that claim.

But Tuesday, his family requested that his name be taken off the award.

"In our view," said Hughes' son Shea Hughes, in an e-mail Tuesday to Norman, "instead of the honor and respect intended, naming the award after him has resulted in people who neither knew my father well nor had any idea of what he did for his community disparaging his name and making statements that are untrue and hurtful."

Wednesday, Commissioner Rose Ferlita made a motion to take Hughes' name off the award, not because of the tax claims, but because she said the Moral Courage Award was never intended to be named after a specific person.

"Moral courage comes in many fashions, many degrees, many arenas," Ferlita said. She said that naming it after someone defines it narrowly and diminishes its value.

Norman, who still insists that Hughes embodied the spirit of the award, said he would honor the family's wishes when he voted to remove Hughes' name.

In contrast to the controversy over naming the award after Hughes last fall, the discussion of an award honoring Busansky was a nostalgic parade of anecdotes about the Democrat's passion, good humor, dedication and spunk.

Presented every June, it will recognize those committed to ethics and good government.

Commissioners also voted to rename the Westshore Senior Center after Busansky, who started in the county as the Aging Services Director.

Busansky's husband, Sheldon, extended the family's thanks to the board in a statement.

"Phyllis loved Hillsborough County and lived her life with passion and commitment . . .

"It is our hope that Phyllis' legacy for transparency and good government will live on."

Reach Alexandra Zayas at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Hillsborough County removes name from Moral Courage Award; honors Busansky with new award 07/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 16, 2009 12:58am]

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