The Hillsborough County Commission faces several major challenges in the coming years, from funding transportation improvements and addressing the lack of affordable housing to controlling the fiscal and environmental impacts of sprawl. Commissioners are elected to four-year terms and paid $99,997 per year.
District 2 (north county)
A Republican challenger tried to oust longtime Commissioner Ken Hagan in the primary by deriding him as a career politician who would give away the store as local leaders seek to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Ybor City. Hagan, who was first elected in 2002, has his vulnerabilities, but he is more balanced and engaged than his critics contend and the most qualified candidate in this race.
Hagan, 51, is a traditional, pro-business conservative who has emerged as a leader on the commission. Though associated most recently with the Rays relocation effort, he has long been a strong supporter of small business development, parks and youth programs, and animal protection and safety. Hagan's institutional history gives him valuable insight into improving county services and controlling the budget. His business-like demeanor helps focus commission debates, and he has increasingly played a constructive role in cooperative efforts at the regional level.
Angela Birdsong, 58, supports tighter controls on growth, especially outside areas where urban services are already available. The Democrat wants builders to pay higher impact fees to help cover the burden on transportation and other public services. Birdsong also wants affordable housing to be incorporated into new development projects. Her comprehensive approach toward curbing sprawl is the right agenda for the district. Birdsong's work history in insurance, real estate and sales also would contribute to the county's search for more effective business recruiting strategies.
Hagan is too easy on developers, and too often walls out opposing views. But he is a hard worker unafraid of tackling serious issues. He sees the big picture and brings a policy depth to government decision-making that cannot be taken for granted.
For Hillsborough County Commission District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ken Hagan.
District 4 (east county)
The fast-growing suburbs in east county are posing incredible demands on schools, the environment and the transportation system. The incumbent, Republican Commissioner Stacy White, has not shown the requisite urgency on transportation, but he is a strong voice for smarter growth and preserving a mix of suburban and rural lifestyles.
White, 46, a former Hillsborough School Board member who has lived in the area nearly his entire life, understands that managing growth is the county's most pressing issue. White is open to shifting more resources to transportation, but he believes the transportation challenges should be addressed as part of a larger examination of land-use policies. He has a legitimate point, and another term would give him the opportunity to help fashion a smarter growth strategy on the seven-member board. He needs to push that discussion more assertively.
Andrew Davis, 36, a service advisor for a Riverview automotive shop, agrees that managing growth should be the county's top priority. The Democrat would increase impact fees on new development. Davis said the county needs to improve transportation and its school system to be more attractive to business. But his relatively brief time in the district and lackluster campaign make him a far weaker choice.
White is a respectful, accessible commissioner whose contacts and familiarity with District 4 make him a formidable presence on the board. He has supported preserving environmental lands and natural resources. Most recently, he led an effort that could help local neighborhoods protect their community-driven plans.
For Hillsborough County Commission District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Stacy White.
District 5 (countywide)
Mariella Smith is among the most-informed and articulate candidates for local office this year. Her knowledge of the issues, common sense and respectful style embody the ideal of representative government.
Smith, 64, is a small business owner and longtime community activist who is making her first run for elected office. A fourth-generation Tampa native, she understands that controlling growth in the unincorporated area is the key to addressing the county’s transportation needs and to preserving a balance of urban and rural lifestyles. As an activist who over the years has opposed one bad project after another, Smith earned respect for doing her homework and for bringing those residents most affected by a pending government action into the loop. She is energetic, ethical and knows how government should work, and she focuses on problem-solving instead of personality or politics.
Commissioner Victor Crist, 61, has held elected office in state or local government for a quarter-century. The Republican has used those public positions to bring much-needed attention to the struggling university area in north Tampa. But Crist has stalled as an advocate; he often is seen to be gumming up the works when consensus-building would call for a more modest approach. Crist also has not made a smooth transition from the Legislature to the more transparent environment of local government. No-party candidate Joe Kotvas, 75, a former county commissioner who was embroiled in a bribery scandal in the courthouse in the 1980s, is also on the ballot.
Smith is the strongest voice for mass transit, the environment and sustainable growth. Her rounded perspective and energy would well serve a countywide constituency. In the countywide race for Hillsborough County Commission District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mariella Smith.
District 7 (countywide)
Kimberly Overman has spent years working to improve Hillsborough County, through her civic work and volunteer service in local government. She has a clear vision for protecting neighborhoods, strengthening the economy and protecting the quality of life in urban and suburban areas alike.
Overman, 60, a certified financial planner, has lived in the county for 34 years and served on a variety of neighborhood and government planning boards. She has sensible views on how to better manage growth, invest in transportation, and use housing and land use to build a more sustainable region. She supports a robust mass transit system, smarter land use, collaborative approaches to urban infill and closer cooperation on regional issues.
Todd Marks, 48, a Tampa attorney, said the board needs "consistent conservative principles." Yet the Republican supports the commission's decision in 2013 to give $6.25 million in subsidies to attract a Bass Pro Shops near Brandon. He talks of the need to slow sprawl, but he doesn't offer a cohesive strategy for improving transportation or making smarter land-use decisions.
Overman has thought through the challenges Hillsborough faces and the responsibilities of a county commissioner. She is a doer who would make county government more responsive and accountable. Green Party candidate Kim O'Connor, 70, who resigned from a conservation board in June following a controversy over marijuana found in her hotel room on a board trip, is also on the ballot.
In the countywide race for Hillsborough County Commission District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Kimberly Overman.