Oh, sure, this week's meeting of the Hillsborough County Commission had a warmup act, something about rail, decent bus service and better roads, and, oh, yeah, convincing voters to pay for it, blah blah blah. I can tell you from the cheap seats, that bit moved forward about as fast as I-275 at rush hour.
Then came the real show, the one that brought down the house: Dysfunctional Government on Ice!
Okay, there was no ice. But drama? This was American Idol meets Bridezillas meets The Apprentice, except no one got around to saying, "You're fired."
Which turned out to be the question of the day: Would commissioners move to boot three top officials in the name of restoring confidence in county government? Did County Administrator Pat Bean and County Attorney Renee Lee snoop through county e-mails? Did someone peek at e-mails about an investigation of controversial raises Bean and Lee got?
And how 'bout that embattled county auditor whose report alleged the e-mail improprieties — wasn't it time for him to go, too?
And are you starting to understand that whole loss-of-confidence thing?
At the meeting, Bean and Lee defended themselves. The county's lawyer lawyered up with the big-time Barry Cohen firm, and her attorney gave a passionate speech on how Lee has been wronged, saying, "The problem is, anyone can make any allegation against anyone."
"Don't I know," piped up Commissioner Kevin White, apparently referring to the federal lawsuit he lost after a comely young aide accused him of firing her for refusing his advances. Good one, Kev!
Bean one-upped everyone drama-wise, saying she got e-mails but did not look at e-mails — and then, in a flourish not often seen at government meetings, whipped out results of her own polygraph to prove her case.
Jim Barnes, auditor guy, gave a brief Dr. Seussian speech: "I will not resign today. I will not resign tomorrow. I will not resign next week."
The audience ate it up. It grumbled in disbelief, broke into supportive applause, waved signs bearing alternate sentiments. One guy hoping someone would get voted off the island held a picture of the Grim Reaper with the words: It's About Time. Auditor-guy fans had Don't Shoot the Messenger. The Lee camp: Keep Renee Lee County Attorney. Spotted outside County Center: Pat Loves People.
Then fun with finance: What would it cost to fire them all? More than $720,000, enough to make a game show audience swoon, like we did back when they totaled up Commissioner White's fat legal tab.
Finally, a cliffhanger. In the last episode — sorry, at a previous meeting — Commissioner Rose Ferlita talked of e-mails from the auditor guy's office that suggested one of the auditor guy's assistants was doing personal business on county time. Some wondered: Where did Ferlita get that e-mail?
The e-mails, Ferlita said, had been "voluntarily submitted" to her by (cue Law and Order cliffhanger music: dum DUM!): the county attorney!
So who … or what … or did she … oh, never mind. What a day for faith in politics.
Stay tuned for the next episode of Dysfunctional Government at the March 17 meeting. Oh, and probably they'll get back to that rail thing eventually, too.