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County endorses inclusion statement, puts end to furor

Four months of emotional debate over the greater inclusion of black people in economic development and education appears to be ending harmoniously.

Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday unanimously endorsed a plan for inclusion, including a vision statement that had been the subject of rancorous debate.

The commission refused to endorse the plan last month even after members of the Coalition of African-American Organizations suggested a boycott might be needed to prod officials into action.

But both sides were all smiles after Wednesday's vote.

"We think you've made a tremendously bold move," said the Rev. Art Jones, spokesman forthe coalition, which developed the plan with business and political leaders.

"I think this board is well on its way to achieving many of the objectives mentioned by the coalition," said County Commissioner Sylvia Kimbell, whose own action plan developed during a symposium on race relations also was approved.

Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman gave her blessings to both plans in a letter Kimbell read during the meeting.

But Freedman stopped short of endorsing the vision statement. She said it was not sufficiently inclusive because it focuses only on African-Americans.

"Our efforts to achieve lasting economic inclusion for all citizens seem to have gotten bogged down over disagreement with processes used to achieve those goals," Freedman wrote.

"While symbolism has its merits, action and forward movement are the important elements if we are to accomplish this most formidable task."

Jones was satisfied with that. "As long as she endorses the plan," he said. "What we want now is action."