This week's kind exchange between Tampa's new mayor, Bob Buckhorn, and Hillsborough County commissioners was nice as gestures go. The two sides said the right things about working together to reduce government expenses and attract new industries. But it will take a concerted effort to repair a relationship strained by years of bad faith and pettiness on the county's part.
The commission chairman, Al Higginbotham, graciously invited Buckhorn to appear before the board. The only agenda for the two sides was to use Buckhorn's inaugural as a launching point to establish a warmer relationship. Past commissions took every chance they could to frustrate the previous mayor, Pam Iorio. Former Commissioners Ronda Storms and Jim Norman could never put their egos aside, and they sought to gain politically by exploiting cultural differences between urban and suburban voters. Their departures and last year's firing of Pat Bean as county administrator were good starts in bringing a new tone to County Center. Higginbotham did well by moving the transition along.
The city and county should explore consolidating services from purchasing to maintenance. They also should cooperate more to attract jobs.
But the city and county also should recognize their differences. The city is stronger on planning, code enforcement, environmental protection and civil rights. While county voters rejected last year's light rail plan, city voters approved it. There is just as much opposition among city residents to having their taxes pay for outlying roads in the suburbs as there is opposition in the county to subsidizing arts and sports venues in the city. The city and county will not always agree, but strengthening the lines of communication helps both.
The city and county already run several major operations in a consolidated manner, from the libraries and airport to animal control. Even without merging their operations, the two sides have plenty of room to better coordinate how they manage growth, respond to hurricanes and administer routine services, from neighborhood cleanup to recreation programs. The olive branch that the county extended this week, and that Buckhorn grasped with equal grace, already represents a new era — and a very public challenge for both sides to act upon.