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Regional planning chief faces criticism

Officials with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council can expect a grilling from Tampa City Council member Rudy Fernandez when they arrive at City Hall this morning for an update on the future of their agency.

That's nothing new. Fernandez, a past chairman of and current member of the regional planning council, has spent months agitating for cuts in the agency's budget.

This time, however, he has a new issue, or at least a new twist on an old one.

During a meeting last week about the proposed budget cuts, Fernandez said Julia Greene, the planning council's executive director, brought along Tom Vann, a former Tampa City Council chairman who lobbies local officials on development issues.

When Fernandez asked, Greene said that, yes, Vann was being paid with public funds.

"I think it's highly irregular for an executive director to hire a lobbyist to lobby his or her own board," Fernandez said Wednesday. "I think it's a further example of poor fiscal management, and I would hope it doesn't continue."

Neither Greene nor Vann returned a reporter's telephone calls to their offices Wednesday.

Led by Fernandez, county and big-city representatives on the planning council voted July 8 to reduce by 22 percent, or $218,311, the amount of money that counties would pay next year to support the council. The council's job is to coordinate planning on regional issues among various local governments in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Manatee counties. Fernandez has argued that much of the council's work duplicates that done by other agencies.

Greene said she would have to cut as many as five people from her staff as a result of the budget reduction. She predicted the council would be less able to do research, respond to requests for information, buy needed equipment or serve on a disaster medical assistance team.

Fernandez said Vann set up last week's meeting to discuss the proposed budget cuts with him.

"They felt that our cutting approximately 25 percent of their discretionary budget would make life very difficult for the staff," Fernandez said. "I told them that I think 25 percent is a step in the right direction."

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