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Plan for Hillsborough County mayor kept off ballot

TAMPA — A proposal to create an elected Hillsborough County mayor appears to be kaput for 2008.

The Florida Supreme Court has declined to stay two lower court decisions stripping the proposal from the November ballot, effectively killing the nearly 3-year-old effort.

"That means, for all practical purposes, it's a dead issue for this election," said Kathy Harris, general counsel for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson.

An attorney for the community activist who had challenged placement of the initiative on the November ballot agreed.

Jennifer Blohm, attorney for activist James Shirk, said the sides have until the end of the month to provide arguments to the court on whether there is a basis to consider an appeal. It will be some time after that before the court decides whether it cares to consider the actual merits of an appeal.

"So I would say, yes, it's not going on the ballot this year," Blohm said.

Attempts to reach Mary Ann Stiles, head of the advocacy group Elected County Mayor Political Committee Inc., were unsuccessful Monday. Her group had joined the lawsuit after Shirk sued the county elections office to have the ballot question removed.

Shirk initially signed a voter petition seeking to put the creation of a county mayor on the ballot in 2006. But Stiles' group was unable to collect enough signatures to get the issue on that year's ballot.

Supporters of an elected county mayor continued collecting signatures using the same form to get the measure on the 2008 ballot. Shirk has said he no longer supports the idea.

The proposed change to Hills­borough County's charter — its constitution of sorts — called for a first mayoral election in 2008.

That can't happen, since voters haven't even decided whether to create the position. A circuit court judge cited that when he ruled the question a moot issue and ordered it taken off the ballot. The 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld that decision last month.

The Supreme Court could still elect to take up an appeal after the election. If that happens, and justices overturn the lower court decisions, the ballot question could move forward for 2010, Blohm said.

Otherwise, supporters of the idea will have to collect petitions all over again.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Plan for Hillsborough County mayor kept off ballot 10/06/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 3:12pm]
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