12/07/16 Local Government
TAMPA — Charges of flip-flopping. Accusations of indifference. One elected official caught on a microphone mumbling about a colleague: "How do you sleep at night?"
If Wednesday was a harbinger for the upcoming year, the Hillsborough County Commission is headed toward a rancorous 2017.
In their first meeting since the November election, commissioners heatedly argued several subjects: How to spend a $7.9 million surplus turned over by the county's constitutional officers; whether lobbyists should be able to text commissioners during meetings; how to pick a board chairman in the future....
TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioners took a step Wednesday to ban texting with lobbyists during meetings, a move that would echo similar reforms coming to Tallahassee.
In a 5-1 vote, commissioners asked county staff to draft an ordinance that would prohibit electronic communications with registered lobbyists during county board meetings or other committee meetings where there’s a quorum. If a lobbyist or commissioner violated the policy, the communication would have to be disclosed immediately....
TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday approved a settlement with the family of a 39-year-old Tampa nurse and mother of three who died in 2010 after her car crashed into a county semitrailer truck.
Under the agreement, the county will pay $200,000 to the estate of Darcia Dominguez, an amount that could grow to $600,000 if the state Legislature approves a claims bill to further compensate the family....
TAMPA — For the Museum of Science and Industry, 2016 was a year of dueling realities.
One was of an institution struggling to make ends meet. Ticket sales dropped 20 percent last year, donations fell well short of annual goals and the museum, known as MOSI, finished its fiscal year with a $1.3 million deficit, according to financial reports obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
The other was of a museum that saw encouraging developments in its plans to move and start fresh in the downtown Tampa project of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment. Notably, Vinik has strengthened his involvement in the museum's reincarnation, bringing his associates to MOSI's board and providing input on key decisions....
TAMPA — Hillsborough County is close to creating a new way for property owners to pay for upgrades to make their homes or businesses more energy efficient or hurricane resistant.
The County Commission recently signaled that it wants to start a Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, program that allows certain environmentally friendly improvements to be financed through a home or business property tax bill. ...
11/28/16 Public Safety
TAMPA — The decision to bring on the Sheriff's Office to monitor low-level criminal offenders in Hillsborough County appears to be paying off.
Collections are up. Expenses are under budget. In some cases, offenders pay less for what many say is better service.
"We're quite pleased," said Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, who advocated the transfer of misdemeanor probation services to the sheriff after a decadeslong arrangement with the Salvation Army ended. "I haven't heard any negative reactions."...
TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White will serve as the county board's chairman for the next 12 months, his colleagues decided Tuesday.
In White, the Republican-run board is turning the reins back over to one of their own. Last year, Commissioner Les Miller, a Democrat, was the surprise choice to lead the a commission where the GOP has a 5-2 majority.
White, an east Hillsborough Republican entering his third year on the commission, said his top priority will be remaining "fair and impartial."...
TAMPA — Apparently, nobody wants to serve on the embattled government agency that oversees taxi cabs and ridesharing companies in Hillsborough County.
County commissioners met Tuesday to organize for 2017 and dole out assignments to various boards and committees. Commissioner Victor Crist begged to be taken off the Public Transportation Committee, where he just spent as chairman during the acrimonious and litigious Uber/Lyft debate....
TAMPA -- If you thought transportation was going away as Hillsborough County’s top issue, think again.
Recently elected county commissioners were sworn in Tuesday during an investiture ceremony. As the new board was seated, each commissioner highlighted their agenda for the coming year, and there was a persistent nod to the continuing need to address the county’s gridlock and crumbling roads....
TAMPA — Last year’s vote to name the 2016 Hillsborough County commission chairman turned out to be a rather contentious affair.
Days after Commissioner Sandy Murman backed away from Go Hillsborough and presented her own competing proposal to pay for transportation needs, she was ousted as the board chair. In her place, Commissioner Les Miller, a Democrat, ascended to the job, a surprising pick for a body where Republicans hold a 5-2 advantage....
11/18/16 Public Safety
TAMPA — Hillsborough County is banning employees from participating in certain biker gangs and other criminal groups after a firefighter associated with the Outlaws motorcycle gang was accused of taking part in a bar fight in Key West.
In a memo Friday, County Administrator Mike Merrill outlined a new policy effective immediately barring membership in groups or gangs considered criminal organizations by the state or federal government....
A Hillsborough County firefighter who is a suspected member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang is wanted in Key West in connection with a September bar fight that involved as many as 15 Outlaws members.
The incident is the latest to draw attention to Florida firefighters who are in biker gangs, an issue that has for months vexed local officials who are hoping for a statewide fix.
The Hillsborough firefighter, Clinton Neal Walker, 33, of Bradenton, is wanted on a misdemeanor battery charge. According to an arrest warrant, Walker and other suspects repeatedly punched John Mafera, manager of the Rumor Lounge in downtown Key West....
TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission met for the last time Wednesday with Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the county’s first openly gay elected official.
The goodbye ceremony was full of emotional statements from each commissioner. Commissioner Sandy Murman, for example, said her and Beckner were “kindred spirits” and added that he brought “diversity to our county that was sorely needed." Beckner, a Democrat, thanked his colleagues for their “respect and civility” during his eight years and movingly gave thanks to his political mentor, former Commissioner Jan Platt, and his husband, Gil....
11/17/16 State Roundup
TAMPA — For Hillsborough County's LGBT community, Kevin Beckner was the right man at the right time.
When he was elected as the first openly gay county commissioner in 2008, no one expected America was on the verge of a historic era for the gay rights movement. Even Beckner's victory — a watershed moment for a county that just three years before blocked gay pride displays in publicly owned spaces — came the same day Floridians and 59 percent of Hillsborough residents approved a same-sex marriage ban....
TAMPA -- The group representing Tampa Bay developers apologized Wednesday for not scheduling a 2017 meeting with the Hillsborough County Commission chairman.
In a letter to the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Builders Association executive vice president Jennifer Doerfel said it was an “administrative oversight” that the group left Commissioner Les Miller off its list of planned lunch meetings next year....