Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Politics

Rep. Larry Ahern gets roughed up by Clearwater City Council

It seemed innocuous enough: an "end of session report" from state Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, to the Clearwater City Council.

Then Ahern got taken to the woodshed.

Things went downhill fast Wednesday night as Ahern became a punching bag for all of the city's frustrations with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, the state's most vocal critic of cities and counties.

It was Corcoran who led the charge for a referendum on a higher homestead exemption in 2018, who wanted to abolish tax-supported community redevelopment agencies and who supported an unsuccessful proposal to require cities to seek legislative approval for local ordinances that affect business and commerce. Corcoran demanded broad new accountability provisions on local tourism boards and he thought cities and counties should be prohibited from hiring outside lobbyists with tax money.

"We're pretty upset," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, as he lectured Ahern over what he saw as Corcoran's unfair attacks. "If the speaker believes that cities shouldn't exist and that local governments don't know what they're doing, that goes against a very core principle that we as Republicans have. … We don't need you to be the speaker's ally. We need you to be the city of Clearwater's ally."

Ahern said he got the message about the Legislature painting all local governments with one broad brush. "I agree with you," he told the mayor. "It hurts the ones that are doing a really good job."

Council member Bill Jonson criticized the House for running last-minute amendments to bills that affect local government home rule. "If home rule is to be overturned, it at least should be introduced in the second week of committee (meetings) so there can be a dialogue on it," Jonson told Ahern.

Council member Hoyt Hamilton joked that he was glad Ahern wore a "bulletproof vest" and called the 2017 session "one of the least productive sessions the Legislature has had in some time." He said voter approval of a $25,000 increase in the homestead exemption will make Tallahassee politicians look good in an election year, while cities and counties will be forced to raise other taxes to make up for lost revenue.

"You're the good guys. We're the bad guys," Hamilton scolded Ahern.

Ahern was a consistently loyal supporter of Corcoran's priorities.

The lawmaker is term-limited in 2018 and filed papers in April to run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission, which would make him an integral part of the home rule system that cities and counties say Corcoran is trying to destroy in Tallahassee.

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