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Push to get county mayor idea on Hillsborough ballot is lagging

TAMPA — Things are going a little slowly for the people who want to have an elected Hillsborough County mayor.

The group, Elected County Mayor Political Committee Inc., won permission Feb. 1 to begin collecting 41,161 signatures from registered voters needed to get the question on the November ballot. Lawyer Mary Ann Stiles, the group's leader, acknowledged Thursday it's got a long way to go to reach that target by the July 31 deadline.

Asked about the number of signatures gathered so far, Stiles could only estimate — maybe 3,000.

Still, Stiles expressed confidence that she will get the needed signatures. That means once again hiring a company to help collect signatures, rather than relying on volunteers to get them by going door to door, which has proved to be a slog so far.

"We will find a way to get the signatures we need," Stiles said.

Leaders of the county mayor issue engaged in a pair of maneuvers this week that seemed to tacitly acknowledge the slow going so far.

First, they approached county commissioners Wednesday about putting the measure directly on the ballot. They were met with blank stares from commissioners, who stand to lose much of their power if an elected county mayor post — particularly one with veto powers — is approved.

Then they held a news conference Thursday to formally announce the launch of their petition gathering effort — more than two months after getting the green light from the county elections office.

Stiles plans to send a letter to commissioners to formally ask for a vote, though commission Chairman Ken Hagan said he doesn't intend to bring it up.

Hagan has been among the critics who say an elected county mayor will merely create another layer of government and that there has been no push for change among residents.

Stiles has tried twice before to get the question on the ballot. Her first stab was thrown out on a technicality in 2006. In 2008, an activist's court challenge kept it off the ballot.

The group has set up a Web site, countymayor.com, where people can print a petition to sign and donate money.

Stiles plans to make the same case: The county has grown to a point that it needs an elected leader to chart a vision and be held directly accountable by voters. While they said they are not using the recent pay-raise and e-mail controversies surrounding suspended County Administrator Pat Bean, whose post would be replaced by the mayor, they said it has spurred support for their effort.

"This county is spending way more time on issues that lack in significance," said Bob Buckhorn, a former Tampa City Council member who attended Thursday's gathering.

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

Push to get county mayor idea on Hillsborough ballot is lagging 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 11:52pm]
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