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County mayor idea misses the mark

SUN CITY CENTER — If the mood of a crowd in Sun City Center is any indication, supporters of a plan to have an elected county mayor have some work to do.

Many of the Sun City Center residents who attended a July 18 forum on the proposal said they didn't like the idea because they see nothing wrong with the current county government structure. The issue appears on the Nov. 4 ballot.

"If I have an issue under the current system, I can contact my commissioner and others (commissioners who are elected at large)," said Ann Madden, a member of the South Shore Roundtable, which hosted the event. "My concern, if we have a mayor, (is whether) it dilutes influence on the progress we've made."

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt, who opposes the plan, said it concentrates more power in the hands of one elected official. That, she said, is contrary to decisions made in the 1980s that helped decentralize decisionmaking power after a government corruption scandal. Every voter chooses three at-large county commissioners and one from a district.

"We wanted to disperse the power to make sure every voter had four commissioners appointed to them," said Platt, who was a commissioner when those changes took effect.

Platt also listed other concerns about the proposal being put to voters: There's no mention of succession or impeachment of a county mayor and the position is meant to be nonpartisan, though the proposal makes no mention of that.

If voters approve, the county mayor would represent 1.2-million residents and oversee a multibillion-dollar budget. County commissioners would still be responsible for setting county policies and giving budget approvals.

Supporters of the measure told the group a county mayor is needed because Hillsborough has outgrown its current form of county government. David Hurley, who supports the mayoral plan, told the group that the current form of government is a better fit for small, less developed counties. While conceding that the proposal has some shortcomings such as those cited by Platt, Hurley said the county mayor plan can be tweaked as needed after it is established.

The bigger issue, supporters of the mayoral proposal say, is to bring together a county that is going in too many directions.

"In the past, the county put together a study group task force of 100 people to address issues like transportation and pollution," said Mary Figg, former state legislator. "When the task force turned in the report, all they heard was a 'thank you' and that's it. It ended right there."

Sun City Center residents Betty James and Janet Wilson said they're concerned about having another elected official who may not have eastern Hillsborough's interests at heart.

"We already pay taxes that go to Hartline and we only have but a few (bus) routes that actually come out this way," said Wilson, who opposes the plan. "These are things that need to be researched by a study group before we make decisions like this."

For her part, Figg stressed that it's time for everyone to start working together, and that a county mayor will help that happen.

"We all pay for services that we don't receive. I don't commute and I don't have kids, but I pay (school and transit) taxes," she said.

County mayor idea misses the mark 07/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 28, 2008 9:08am]
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