As political speculation mounts nationally that office-holders will face severe anti-incumbent sentiment in November, a pair of county commissioners did their best this week to justify the electorate's anger.
In separate instances at the Pasco Commission meeting five days ago in Dade City, Pat Mulieri and Michael Cox took turns personifying a leadership void on the dais that has individual commissioners ducking for political cover while admitting ignorance of the issues before them.
At least it was bipartisan. Cox, a Democrat, is running for re-election for a second four-year term. Mulieri, a Republican, first won her seat in 1994 and is running for a fifth term. Neither should recall this meeting fondly.
We'll start with Cox, who clearly is frustrated at the lack of progress on a proposal to build a sports complex intended to lure out-of-town tourists on weekends while providing field space for local athletes during the week.
The initial site picked by a consultant in Trinity is dead after unexpected political uproar from a neighboring golf community, and now three other proposals are being studied for costs, access, size and timeliness. But by asking County Administrator John Gallagher to recommend one of the sites in the coming weeks, Cox was shirking his own responsibilities as one of the five elected policymakers. It's Cox's job to make a selection, not the county administrator's.
Besides, the commission already paid $60,000 to a consultant to recommend a site. What good did that do? The commission unanimously retreated in the face of opposition from the Heritage Springs neighborhood in Trinity.
Cox shouldn't try to hide behind a staff recommendation, nor should he be the water boy for private sector interests pushing one site over another. The question he posed to Gallagher is an insult to the people Cox is elected to represent. The days of rubber-stamping staff recommendations are long gone and so, too, should be commission attempts to pass the buck.
Cox, however, looked like a statesman compared to Mulieri's clueless performance. After earlier protesting that she and the rest of the commission are engaged thoroughly on policy issue deliberations, the 16-year commissioner showed she is disengaged and does not comprehend basic tax issues.
She confessed to being embarrassed. She should be. Not until Commissioner Jack Mariano relayed a constituent complaint that a new taxing district for law enforcement would actually raise taxes on 88 percent of the population — the people owning property outside Pasco's six cities — did Mulieri question separating the Sheriff's Office law enforcement expenses into a separate tax.
It proved Mulieri (and likely Mariano for that matter) did not pay attention to budget presentations from the staff, did not read the provided documentation, nor pay heed to the news coverage on the proposed municipal service tax unit the commission first endorsed May 18.
"Maybe I was sleeping, I don't know," Mulieri confessed to the rest of the board when she learned what it was she supported.
Earlier she had said, "I don't believe I sleep through meetings, but I don't remember a discussion of a (tax) shift or whatever you call it."
Therein lies the problem. The board supported the new taxing district under the guise of greater financial transparency, but failed to consider the ramifications. Most notably, commissioners did not vet the political hot potato of lowering the general fund millage while simultaneously setting a new law enforcement tax at a greater amount. It translates to a slight property tax increase for people in unincorporated Pasco, but a tax cut for city residents financing their own municipal police departments.
Finances have never been Mulieri's strong suit, but even she figured out the apparent short-term political safety of not extracting more property taxes from 88 percent of the county's property owners. Whether her admitted inability to understand elementary governing sparks long-term political vulnerability is a question to be answered in the coming months.
If incumbents Cox and Mulieri confront angry voters along the campaign trail later this year, they can look back at their June 8 calendars to understand why.