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Political Junkie

Group to test water on Hillsborough land program support

A group seeking to extend Hillsborough County's program to purchase environmentally sensitive land will gauge public support with a poll in the next week or so.

The Land Conservation Roundtable, in concert with Florida's Trust for Public Land, could begin polling residents this week about their support for the program. With favorable results, they would urge county commissioners to put the question on November's ballot.

So says Dick Eckenrod, former director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, who is leading the effort.

The county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program (ELAPP) is set to expire after 2010. It has been responsible for the purchase and preservation of more than 43,000 acres for posterity since it was overwhelmingly passed by voters nearly 20 years ago.

Voters must approve its extension, since it involves committing a portion of property tax dollars for future purchases.

County Administrator Pat Bean has expressed reservations about posing the ballot question during the current property tax revolt.

But Eckenrod said most commissioners and others in the community interested in the program that we re consulted in recent weeks suggested voting now.

If the effort should fail this year, they'll have another bite at the apple in 2010.

Workers take hits

It's not uncommon for top administrators and even department directors to take a public beating from Hillsborough County commissioners. Just ask Affordable Housing chief Howie Carroll, whose work ability was openly questioned by commissioners Wednesday.

But commissioners seldom single out rank-and-file employees or even mid-level managers, at least during open meetings.

Commissioner Brian Blair broke from unofficial protocol by blasting three employees by name from the county's Planning and Growth Management Department on Wednesday. The context was a critical audit of the department.

Blair named the three people he said are most often blamed for unreasonable delays by development industry folks who call his office. The employees are Joe Incorvia, manager of the community planning section; Bob Campbell, division director of transportation and land development review; and Charles White, manager of transportation review.

"If they worked for us in the private sector, we'd be broke," said Blair, challenging them to "rise to the occasion."

Blair preceded his criticism by praising four other employees, which probably did them no favors around the water cooler.

Those employees are Brian Grady, executive planner, planning and zoning section; Paula Harvey, division director, planning and zoning; Susan Mariner, senior planner in the planning and zoning section; and Wayne Francis, manager at the south county satellite office.

Monkey business

Blair also has the distinction of winning the Political Junkie's periodic misspeak of the week award — again. Recently, it was for recognizing "sexual awareness month" instead of sexual assault awareness month.

On Wednesday, Blair was seeking to insert a little levity into commission proceedings, in between smacking mid-level managers around. Unwittingly, he succeeded.

Wit Ostrenko, president of the Museum of Science and Industry, had just finished telling commissioners about, well, some science stuff. That's when Blair asked him the burning question.

"Just out of curiosity, I'm sure everybody else is interested if you caught the monkeys," Blair said.

Ostrenko, looking unsure of how to respond, said simply, "No, I have not."

"That's the zoo," Bean offered, helpfully.

Blair was apparently thinking of another community attraction leader with a three-letter first name, Lex Salisbury. Salisbury runs Lowry Park Zoo and had a bunch of monkeys escape from a compound where he was keeping them in Polk County.

Times staff writer Bill Varian compiled this report.

Group to test water on Hillsborough land program support 05/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 15, 2008 5:26pm]
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