By a 6-1 vote, Hillsborough County commissioners on Thursday approved County Administrator Pat Bean's picks for a 16-member task force that will study New Tampa's recreational needs.
There was no criteria for membership, but it was the commission's mandate that the task force include environmentalists and area sports league representatives.
Such a balance was missing last year when the county hosted two public meetings to sort out if, and what kind of, a park should go into 70 acres along Morris Bridge Road. Nature lovers who favored preservation said they outnumbered sports fanatics who craved football, soccer and baseball fields. Others, including New Tampa Little League president Kelly Rubin, one of 11 voting members that Bean appointed to the task force, said the reverse.
"I wasn't speaking as Kelly Rubin, one person," she said. "I was speaking as Kelly Rubin of the New Tampa Little League representing 550 families.
"I think that was lost. They looked at it and said, "Okay, how many bodies are in the room,' instead of how many voices are being heard."
Such gripes prompted Commissioner Ken Hagan to ask colleagues to give Bean the authority to create the task force last month.
"The problem with the whole public meeting process is that you do not necessarily get a fair representation of people in the community," Hagan said.
That's why the job of the task force is so important, said county real estate director Mike Kelly, one of five city, county or school officials Bean asked to sit on the task force in an advisory capacity, not as voting members.
"Certainly, the goal is to have a balanced dialogue" said Kelly, who will chair the group.
" . . . I'm personally optimistic about the task force. I think it's a good idea."
Commissioner Kathy Castor does not think it's a good idea. Not if the task force is going to consider the Morris Bridge Road site for recreational possibilities _ a site the county's own parks staff recommended for passive uses such as park benches and walking trails, not ballfields.
"Consistent with my prior position, which was that Morris Bridge should not be included, I'm going to have to vote against the task force," Castor said.
If not Morris Bridge Road, then where, asked Dennis O'Connor, president of the New Tampa Soccer Association and another Bean appointee.
That said, he said, "I don't think there's anyone in New Tampa who wants to create an environmental nightmare so you have a place to throw a ball around."
Rubin is not sold on the Morris Bridge Road site, but she's not against it, either.
"I'm not against using that site if that's our only option," she said.
Lynn McGarvey, a Carrollwood Village resident and Sierra Club conservation chairwoman who is on the task force, said she hopes discussions will go beyond sports.
"Kids need not only sports teams," she said. "It's a whole gamut of needs to prepare these kids."
And that includes the environment, she said.
The hurdle the task force must overcome, McGarvey said, is this: balancing the area's high demand for recreation with the need to preserve the environment for the future.
Ultimately, however, the task force's work is bigger than New Tampa and its needs alone, she said.
"I'm hoping that out of this will come a plan for the entire county that they can use for long-term planning," McGarvey said. " . . . Perhaps we won't have these same problems crop up" elsewhere.
As for now, the focus is New Tampa, Kelly said. The task force must have its recommendations ready by the commission's April 6 meeting.
"There's not a lot of land in New Tampa to purchase to solve these needs," he said. "The needs are real and they exist, so I appreciate the help."
_ Rodney Thrash can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or rthrashsptimes.com.
New Tampa Area Park & Recreation Needs Assessment Task Force
Hillsborough River Greenways Task Force
Tampa Audubon Society
Lynn McGarvey, community activist and Sierra Club conservation chairwoman
Rob Heath, Wildlife Fellowship Inc.
Kelly Rubin, New Tampa Little League
Dennis O'Connor, New Tampa Soccer Association
Mike Wallace, New Tampa Sharks
Jerry Cionci, New Tampa Wildcats
Jim Mennie, Tampa Bay Sportsplex Inc.
Gary Nager, community activist and (New Tampa) Neighborhood News publisher
Mike Kelly, Hillsborough County Real Estate
Stan Motley, Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation
Susan Fernandez, Hillsborough County Attorney's Office
Wayne Papy, Tampa Parks and Recreation
Hillsborough County School Board
Source: Hillsborough County