They came wearing green and seeing red.
An overflow crowd filled the commission chambers at Hillsborough County Center on Thursday to blast the board's tentative vote to eliminate its Environmental Protection Commission's wetlands protection program.
They placed a tip jar on the lectern, with speaker after speaker depositing 60 cents - the cost, they said, of the wetlands program per resident. And they voiced outrage at the 45 minutes set aside for public comment - one minute per speaker.
"You're a mockery," said Roger Stewart, former head of the EPC, as his time expired. "If you're time is so valuable, get the hell out and do something else."
The crowd dispersed not knowing the fate of the wetlands office. That decision, plus another public hearing, is scheduled for Aug. 16.
The audience was left to interpret the general silence of the commissioners it's dubbed the "gang of four" - Republicans Brian Blair, Jim Norman and Ken Hagan, and Democrat Kevin White.
The three other commissioners -Republicans Rose Ferlita, Al Higginbotham and Mark Sharpe - did most of the speaking from the dais, voicing support for what the EPC dubs a "hybrid plan" to streamline its $2.2-million wetlands permitting program.
In a preliminary vote, county commissioners voted 4-3 last month to kill the wetlands division. The majority said the county can no longer afford the division, given budget cuts being mandated by the state.
"We're getting the same vibrations we got in the 1980s, when three commissioners were taken away in handcuffs" for selling land-use votes, said Cam Oberting, a longtime activist and president of the Taylor Road Civic Association.