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  1. Hillsborough

William March: Open anger between two Hillsborough commissioners and Turanchik

Ed Turanchik, who represents companies hoping to operate a proposed MacDill Air Force Base ferry. [Times (2016)]
Ed Turanchik, who represents companies hoping to operate a proposed MacDill Air Force Base ferry. [Times (2016)]
Published Aug. 20, 2019

A recent county commission vote on the proposed MacDill Air Force Base ferry has produced open anger between two commissioners, Les Miller and Sandy Murman, and transportation and civic activist Ed Turanchik, who represents companies hoping to operate the ferry.

The unusual display of open hostility within the circle of Tampa's political insiders could suggest problems ahead for the ferry project.

Miller charges that Turanchik acted unprofessionally during angry phone conversations following the Aug. 7 vote, and said he has told Turanchik never to contact him again.

Turanchik, himself a former commissioner, recent mayoral candidate and prominent lawyer with a history of working on progressive housing and transportation projects, denies any unprofessionalism. The two gave sharply different accounts of their interaction.

Murman, meanwhile, said she believes Turanchik mouthed the words "You're dead" at her from the audience after the vote as she sat on the dais, intending a political message.

Turanchik vehemently denies that as well, saying he was seeking to mouth a question to her about the legal effect of the vote, which came on her motion. Because of a ruling by Miller, the board chairman, Turanchik had been unable to ask the question before the vote, he said.

But Murman responded, "I stand by my story."

Turanchik represents HMS Ferries and South Swell Development Group, which have a contract to operate the ferry between South Shore and MacDill if it's found feasible.

In the meeting, Murman moved to transfer the project to HART, saying the public transit agency should handle it. The motion didn't make clear whether the existing contract would be extended.

In a phone conversation the next day, Miller said, Turanchik accused him of pettiness and acting on old political grudges in denying him the right to speak on the motion. Miller, who noted the meeting wasn't a public hearing, said Turanchik was "very unprofessional" and the conversation degenerated into angry obscenities.

"I told him never to contact me again, by phone, email or text," Miller said.

Turanchik acknowledged telling Miller the motion should have been discussed in a public hearing but denied any unprofessional behavior.

"I've chaired commissioners' meetings, and I know how they should run," he said.

Concerning the Murman accusation, Turanchik said, "Absolutely not." He said he was attempting to ask Murman whether the effect of her motion would be to continue the contract under HART.

The tape of the meeting doesn't show Turanchik but does show Murman reacting with displeasure to something in the audience.

Several other commissioners and staff on the dais said they didn't see what words Turanchik silently mouthed to Murman.

Proponents of the ferry project, including Commissioner Pat Kemp, said during the meeting that Murman's motion was an attempt to kill it. Murman denied that in the meeting, saying she favors the concept.

There has been speculation around county offices that the hostility is connected with purported aspirations by Turanchik to become county manager after the resignation of Mike Merrill, expected next June. Both Turanchik and Commissioner Mariella Smith, a close friend of Turanchik, denied he has any such aspirations.

•••

The expected big field of candidates to replace term-limited county Commissioner Les Miller in District 3 is coming together, with former commissioner and Tampa City Council member Tom Scott joining the race and Gwen Myers qualifying by petition.

Scott has long been one of the county's most prominent black public officeholders but hasn't won an election since 2007 and is seeking something of an electoral comeback.

The long-time pastor of the 34th Street Church of God, he served on the board of commissioners from 1996-2006 and the city council 2007-2011, but lost a 2011 race for mayor and a 2016 race for a countywide commissioner's seat.

Scott has served over the years on virtually all the most important appointed governmental boards in the county, including the hospital, port, aviation and expressway boards. He is now on the Tampa Sports Authority and Mayor Jane Castor's affordable housing advisory committee.

Scott faces Frank Reddick, former Tampa City Council member, who may not be as well known but has been before voters more recently, along with Myers and Sky U. White.

Myers, a former county health care and contract management official who retired in 2013, announced this week that she has received enough verified signatures to qualify for the race by petition.

White, a nurse and community activist, lost in a 2018 primary for the countywide seat won by Kimberly Overman, but made inroads among the county's progressive Democrats in the process.

•••

County Commissioner Mariella Smith will bring up a motion for a commissioners' resolution urging the state Legislature to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment at the Sept. 5 meeting.

With four Democrats and one Republican woman on the board, "I would expect it to pass," Smith said.

Advocates believe that if one more state ratifies the measure, it will become part of the Constitution.

The Tampa and St. Petersburg city councils have both unanimously passed resolutions supporting the amendment.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com.

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