Mostly Cloudy69° WeatherMostly Cloudy69° Weather

Will Hobson, Times Staff Writer

Will Hobson

Will Hobson covers Hillsborough County government, operations, and other things he can convince his editors to let him write about for the Tampa Bay Times.

Born in Miami and raised outside Philadelphia, the Boston College alumnus joined the Times in 2011 after stints as a correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and staff writer positions at the Panama City News-Herald and Daytona Beach News-Journal. He has previously covered the city of Largo and general assignment in Pinellas County, and crime, law enforcement and general assignment in Hillsborough County. He lives in Tampa with his wife, Alex.

In 2014, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting for his work on a series of stories about abusive landlords and squalid housing for the homeless.

Phone: (813) 226-3400


Twitter: @TheWillHobson

  1. Hillsborough Commissioner Sharpe steps down to gifts, praise

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe stepped down Thursday after 10 years on the board, and fellow commissioners and county employees presented him with gifts celebrating his passion for small businesses, his love of coffee and his inability to sit still.

    Sharpe received a plaque calling him "Commissioner Buddy Brew" from his favorite java stop, and another commemorating a new county initiative named after him — the "Mark Sharpe Entrepreneur Collaborative Center."...

  2. Hillsborough Administrator Mike Merrill earns three-year extension, possible raise

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill earned rave reviews from county commissioners again Thursday, reinforcing his stature as one of the most powerful nonelected public officials in Tampa Bay.

    Commissioners asked Merrill, 61, to stay on the job until 2018 and re-evaluated his $217,360 salary, implying he could be in for a significant raise. Merrill's contract was not set to expire until December 2015, but commissioners didn't want to wait. ...

  3. No recount in Hillsborough Commission race


    TAMPA -- There will be no recount in the race between Al Higginbotham and Pat Kemp for the Hillsborough County Commission's District 7 seat.

    The Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Office finalized the results Friday, and after counting provisional ballots, Higginbotham's margin of victory is still slightly more than the .5 percentage point margin that triggers an automatic recount.

    Higginbotham won 50.27 percent of the votes cast, to Kemp's 49.73 percent. The difference amounted to 1,935 votes out of 353,817 cast. Higginbotham, 60, has served on the commission since 2006, but this was his first time running for a countywide seat....

  4. Higginbotham win over Kemp barely outside recount margin


    TAMPA — Despite a massive spending edge and all the advantages of incumbency, Republican Al Higginbotham's race Tuesday against Democrat Pat Kemp for Hillsborough County Commission District 7 was one of the area's closest.

    Higginbotham, running countywide for the first time after representing conservative east Hillsborough for eight years, won 50.3 percent of the votes cast, according to unofficial results, to 49.7 percent for Kemp. The difference is slightly more than the .5 percentage point margin that triggers an automatic recount, according to state law....

  5. Hillsborough Commission: Crist wins re-election, Higginbotham narrowly wins


    TAMPA — Republicans maintained control of the Hillsborough County Commission with one incumbent winning and another sitting commissioner narrowly pulling out a victory late Tuesday night.

    In the face for countywide District 7, longtime commissioner Al Higginbotham edged Democrat Pat Kemp, who nearly overcame a massive spending gap to pull an upset.

    In Tuesday's other contested commission race, incumbent Republican Victor Crist defeated Democratic challenger Elizabeth Belcher for northern Hillsborough's District 2 seat....

  6. Hillsborough County Commission: District 2


    County Commission | District 2

    Republican Victor Crist, who formerly served in both the state House and Senate, seeks another term representing northern Hillsborough County. Democrat Elizabeth Belcher, a retiree who had a long career as an investigator with the IRS, is trying to unseat him. By Will Hobson, Times staff writer

    Elizabeth Belcher, 64Victor Crist, 57
    Experience After a long career trying to root out tax fraud and money laundering, Belcher became a community activist. She has attended County Commission meetings to raise questions about a number of expenditures, and is strongly critical of the $6.25 million incentive package that lured Bass Pro Shops to Hillsborough. The longtime local politician is one of several Republican commissioners who shifted this year on social issues like barring discrimination against gays and creating a domestic partnership registry. Crist has owned an advertising agency, Metropolitan Communications, since 1982.
    EducationBachelor of arts degree, Washington University in St. Louis, 1972.Bachelor of arts degree in communication from the University of South Florida, 1983.
    Do you support a tax package for new transit? Why?Mass transit is essential for our community. However, I do not want any transit tax to become another slush fund for the County Commission. Any sales tax funding for mass transit must be monitored, meet strict standards and be absolutely transparent.We need to have a well thought-out plan with no hidden costs that is strategically engineered to overcome our transportation problems. I believe this needs to be done before the voters in District 2 would embrace new out-of-pocket funding sources.
    What industries, if any, would you support with public incentives?Recycling. I do not support wasting our tax money by giving it away for the benefit of big-box retail stores, i.e. the "retail road" to nowhere for the benefit of Bass Pro; the "back door" rezoning of property for a Super Walmart.I will continue to work to bring emerging industries into our county, such as biotechnology and the numerous opportunities surrounding USF and the I-4 corridor.
    How would you promote growth while protecting against sprawl?Put policies in place and enforce them to encourage infill. Keep the urban area/rural area line firmly in place. Require property owners to be current in their property taxes before allowing a zoning, rezoning, variance, etc. application to be processed.I will continue to work to identify redevelop-able pockets within our existing urban corridors. One such area that I have taken the lead on is Innovation Destination, which encompasses the neighborhoods surrounding the Tampa campus of USF.
    Financial disclosureAssets: Home, stocks, retirement accounts. Liabilities: None. Income: Pension.Assets: Two homes, retirement accounts. Liabilities: Mortgage, loans. Income: Commissioner salary, investment income, advertising company income.
    PersonalMarried, no children.Married with a daughter.; ...

  7. Hillsborough County Commission: District 7


    County Commission | District 7

    Prevented by term limits from running again in eastern Hillsborough's District 4, Commissioner Al Higginbotham is running in at-large, countywide District 7 for another term. Pat Kemp, a lawyer and former aide to then-Commissioner Kathy Castor, stands in his way. The seat is being vacated by Republican Mark Sharpe, who is leaving due to term limits. By Will Hobson, Times staff writer...

  8. Domestic partner registry approved in Hillsborough, despite crowd opposition

    Local Government

    TAMPA — One sentence in the ordinance was clearly intended to prevent debate.

    Hillsborough County commissioners were set to vote Wednesday afternoon on a domestic partnership registry, which has long been controversial. A single sentence in the ordinance was seemingly written to pre-empt opposition.

    In legalese, it said the commission "does not intend that this Ordinance be construed as recognizing … domestic partnerships … as a marriage."...

    Kevin Beckner, Hillsborough County’s first openly gay commissioner, has been the leader in getting the domestic partner registry approved, which it was Wednesday.
  9. Democrats Kemp, Belcher hope for surprise results on Election Day


    TAMPA — It has been a year of surprises on the Hillsborough County Commission, traditionally a conservative stronghold with a dim view of gay rights issues. A local law barring discrimination against gay and transgender people passed unanimously. A domestic partnership registry ensuring some rights for unmarried couples seems poised for passage this week.

    Two Democratic candidates hope the policy reversal foreshadows another about-face — on Election Day. ...

    Hillsborough County Commission District 7 candidate Al Higginbotham, a Republican, vacates his District 4 seat due to term limits, but is running for this countywide seat.
  10. Hillsborough enacts workplace protections for gay, transgender people

    Local Government

    TAMPA — In 1991, Hillsborough County commissioners barred discrimination against gay people in a vote considered ahead of its time. Four years later, they repealed the measure, setting the tone for nearly two decades of actions that earned Hillsborough commissioners a reputation for staunch social conservatism.

    That era ended Wednesday when the commission again reversed course on gay rights, this time by unanimously approving an expanded human rights ordinance that outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in hiring, housing and public accommodations....

    In a meeting Wednesday, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller talks about his personal experiences with discrimination growing up in segregated Tampa.
  11. Rays stadium plan is the goal for Hillsborough working group

    Local Government

    TAMPA — If the Tampa Bay Rays ever get permission to look at new baseball stadium sites in Hillsborough County, a small group led by County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will likely lead discussions.

    Hillsborough commissioners on Wednesday morning unanimously approved Hagan's proposal to designate the Tampa Sports Authority as the lead agency to deal with the Rays in the event that the city of St. Petersburg allows the team to look outside Pinellas County for a new home....

    Aerial overall looking east at Tropicana Field and downtown St. Petersburg.
  12. Fire that destroyed Apollo Beach restaurant ruled arson


    APOLLO BEACH — A fire that destroyed a restaurant and hair salon last week has been ruled an arson, investigators said Monday.

    The blaze — which consumed Shenaniganz Grill and Chill and Revelation Hair Salon — caused more than $1 million in damage, according to David Tucker, investigator with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

    Investigators did not name any suspects in the fire at 5813 U.S. 41, which crews responded to last Wednesday morning....

  13. Hillsborough commissioner seeks to pave the way for ballpark talks with Rays


    TAMPA — While nothing has changed in the long-running stalemate between the Tampa Bay Rays and the city of St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan wants plans in place when the impasse ends.

    At Wednesday's commission meeting, Hagan will ask to designate the Tampa Sports Authority to lead discussions with the Rays about a new stadium — if the Rays get permission to look at sites outside Pinellas County....

    If, and when, the Tampa Bay Rays are ready to look outside St. Petersburg for a new stadium, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan wants to be ready.
  14. Lightning Fan Fest builds support for season

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The seats in section 123, behind one of the goals, will start at $75.15 when the Tampa Bay Lightning's regular season starts next month. Saturday morning, though, they were free, along with every other seat at Amalie Arena, for Fan Fest, the annual preseason event that gives fans a more wallet-friendly way to see the team in action and mingle with the players.

    John Scalisi, 31, of New Port Richey, enjoyed the great view of practice action from section 123 with his family of four — wife, Luci, 32, and their children Sarah, 13, and Dominic, 2. They all had Lightning shirts draped over their shoulders (Florida Hospital gave away shirts to the first 3,500 fans), some of them signed by Chris Dingman, retired Lightning player and current analyst. ...

    Jason Garrison autographs a hat during Fan Fest. This is Garrison’s first season with the Lightning after being traded from the Canucks in late June. Fans lined up to get his autograph and say how excited they were to have him on the team this season.
  15. Hillsborough commissioners approve budget

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners Thursday evening quickly and unanimously approved a $3.96 billion budget for next year.

    For the 22nd consecutive year, commissioners lowered the property tax rate, although by a minimal amount. For example, the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would save 17 cents under the rate. But because of rising property values, the average homeowner will likely not see savings....