Pat Frank has been an able and decent public official for so long that her service is almost taken for granted. Hillsborough County commissioners did their part to recognize that record this week by awarding Frank the county's 2010 Good Government award. While most people may know her as the Hillsborough clerk of circuit court, Frank has a long legacy of making this region and state a much better place.
Competent, fair and honest are not how many public officials are described these days. But those traits have distinguished Frank throughout her career, from her time on the School Board in the 1970s to her years in the Florida House and Senate and later as a county commissioner.
Frank's story, though, is less about the arc of her political career than the strong voice and character she has brought to public life. She was an advocate in Tampa for voting rights and transparent elections when Lyndon Johnson was president. Undoing the second-class educational system for blacks drew her to the School Board. As a state legislator, Frank championed women's rights, growth management and ethics. She also was part of the generation of progressive women politicians in Tampa — including Helen Gordon Davis, Jan Platt, Sandy Freedman and Betty Castor — who opened up the old-boy political process.
Frank's biggest contribution to this community, though, came outside elected office. As a member of the county agency that oversaw Tampa General Hospital in the 1990s, Frank made sure the public hospital would continue serving the poor and conduct its business openly even after the institution was privatized. The move enabled the region's only advanced trauma center to avoid financial ruin and maintain its commitment to charity care.
Frank has made the clerk's office more efficient with her attention to detail. But her real impact has been in the respect she has fostered among clerks statewide for openness in the court system. At 80, she has not slowed down. On accepting the award from commissioners this week, she thanked her husband, Dick, credited her employees and got back to work. Her sixth decade of service was calling.