Do the old bulls on the Hillsborough County Commission not have an ounce of decency left?
Eileen Hart on Wednesday gave back the Moral Courage Award the county bestowed on her in 1996. It was sad to see, but only a matter of time. Last month, commissioners renamed the award after Ralph Hughes, a concrete magnate who died this summer. Hughes used his money to thump against government regulation and taxes — and to shower politicians who saw the same light with campaign contributions.
It was a slap in the face to the previous award winners to see five county commissioners who all but established a branch office for Hughes' agenda at County Center vote to name the award after him. Politicizing the award was bad enough. But commissioners who wallowed in his largesse couldn't stop there. Jim Norman and Ken Hagan had the nerve to pontificate on Hart's stand and the meaning of moral courage. This award, Norman said, is for "people who fought against the government." Hagan piped in: "It's a shame she would let philosophical differences ruin a very special award."
This award is not about shooting arrows at the government. It is meant to honor a selfless pursuit by the little guy for the greater, public good. Hughes wanted lower taxes and fewer restrictions on an industry he supplied. Hart led a difficult effort in the 1990s to end the region's water wars and reduce groundwater pumping. Her efforts helped to create more sustainable water resources and save millions of dollars in government spending. There she stood Wednesday, a uniter judged by dividers. After Hart placed her award on the dais, before Hagan, the board chairman, he said: "We appreciate the history lesson, ma'am." Then he moved the award under the table. A county official later fished it from the trash.