NEW TAMPA — Light rail, a county mayoral form of government and libraries were among topics covered Monday during a town hall meeting featuring four candidates vying for Hillsborough County Commission seats.
The luncheon, sponsored by the New Tampa Chamber of Commerce, drew about 40 people to the Pebble Creek Golf Club, where they got to meet some of the politicians who want to serve this northeastern pocket of Hillsborough County.
County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, running for the at-large District 5 post, faced off against fellow Republican Don Kruse and James Hosler, who has no party affiliation. Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, a Democrat also gunning for the District 5 seat, did not attend because she was traveling.
Republican Linda Pearson, an urban planner, also participated in the forum. She intends to file for the District 2 seat, which Hagan is expected to give up in order to run for the District 5 post. District 2 covers northern Hillsborough, including New Tampa.
Chamber members submitted questions for the candidates, who kept the air cordial and the pace swift. One candidate lodged a few light zingers at Hagan, who sits on a board currently embroiled in a circus-like drama.
A moment that drew chuckles came when the candidates were asked if they support the need for a county mayor, and Hosler, a former county planner, replied: "The existing system does not work. I think you need to elect better candidates."
Pearson wanted to let residents vote on the county mayor issue, saying it is difficult for a county administrator to serve seven bosses.
Kruse, meanwhile, called for a consolidated city and county government, criticizing the separate city mayor and county administrator forms of government.
"You feel like babysitting kids who don't want to share toys," he said.
Hagan, however, said he was adamantly opposed to a county mayor because it brings higher taxes, more spending and more debt.
"There's also no transparency and oversight," he said.
A hot topic, a proposed penny sales tax in Hillsborough County to pay for light rail, expanded bus service and road work, drew strong remarks from Kruse, Hosler and Pearson, who oppose the idea.
"It's an incredibly bad idea right now," Hosler said.
Hagan, however, was not ready to banish the proposed tax referendum outright.
"Personally, I'm not a rail advocate," he said. "But this issue should be on the ballot. You should have the opportunity to shoot it down."
There was one issue they all agreed on: support for the public library system.
Pearson wanted to see more convenient hours; Hosler called for an expanded client base; Kruse wanted more private money put into the system; and Hagan said he supports expansion.
The primary election is Aug. 24. The general election is Nov. 2.
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or email@example.com.