TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe wanted to replace the longtime director of Hillsborough's transportation planning agency Tuesday, but he was alone.
Other city and county elected officials who oversee the Metropolitan Planning Organization want to keep its executive director, Lucie Ayer, in the job that she has held for 13 years.
Sharpe said he wants a more vocal advocate for mass transit running the MPO as some officials gear up for a sales tax referendum to be conducted at some point in the future. They would ask Hillsborough voters to approve a half-cent or 1-cent tax to pay for a beefed-up transit system, including light rail.
But several others on the MPO board turned the tables and said leadership on the light rail issue has to come from elected officials.
Tampa City Council member Tom Scott, a former Hillsborough commissioner, noted that the commission has repeatedly voted against putting a rail tax on the ballot.
"Until the Board of County Commissioners is on board and says let's move forward, mass transit's not going anywhere," Scott said.
The MPO is in charge of long-range transportation planning and distributes hundreds of millions of federal dollars for roads and buses every year. Its 13-member board is composed mostly of elected officials from Hillsborough County and Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace.
The board's chairman, Temple Terrace Mayor Joe Affronti, defended Ayer and noted that the MPO's staff put together an updated plan for a countywide passenger rail network last year. The board approved it in November. "We're the only county in our region" that has such a plan, Affronti said.
Sharpe called the rail plan "thin gruel" and said the agency had supplied embarrassingly outdated maps for recent community meetings.
He's concerned that if officials don't have a detailed plan for rail that answers criticisms and questions, then "the voters, I believe, will vote it down."
Ayer, who disputes Sharpe's assessment of her performance, said nothing during Tuesday's meeting and declined to comment afterward.
The board voted to have a workshop to discuss exactly what Ayer's job should be.
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