TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners gave an old job to an old hand Tuesday, tapping Republican Commissioner Ken Hagan as their new chairperson.
It is the start of Hagan’s 21st year as commissioner, and the sixth time he will serve as chairperson. He last did so in 2012.
Hagan’s elevation followed a swearing-in ceremony earlier Tuesday morning in which six commissioners took their oaths of office. They included three newly elected Republicans: Commissioners Michael Owen, representing eastern and southern Hillsborough, and Donna Cameron Cepeda and Joshua Wostal, both elected in countywide districts.
Their election wins left the board with a 4-3 Republican majority with Commissioners Harry Cohen and Gwen Myers — both reelected in 2022 — and Pat Kemp in the Democratic minority.
Hagan was nominated by Wostal, who also demonstrated a bipartisan spirit by putting forward Myers as vice chairperson and Cameron Cepeda as chaplain. There were no other nominations.
Hagan, who acknowledged still getting sweaty palms during the swearing-in ceremony, said the new commission “provides more balance than any board I’ve served on from a gender perspective, partisan perspective. We also have a nice balance with four incumbents and three newly elected commissioners.”
Though the controlling party has changed, the challenges confronting the county have not, several commissioners said.
During the invocation, Myers prayed for Hillsborough County to “continue to serve all citizens for affordable housing, for rent, for health care, for transportation.”
“I am a conservative. I am a Republican and my district expects me to act like that and I will,” Owen said later. “I think the majority of the things we need to work on here are not too political — growth, safety, transportation, schools. Those kind of things I believe we can put our heads together and solve.”
Hagan highlighted job growth and industrial recruiting during his remarks.
“Not everyone has benefited from this economic recovery. Too many Floridians are struggling and are unable to make ends meet. This is simply unacceptable,” he said. “We must grow our economy with job-diversification strategies and having a laserlike focus for fostering an environment that is open for business.”
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During the reorganization meeting, commissioners picked the outside boards on which they will serve. With transportation cited as a leading issue confronting the county, Owen, Cohen, Myers, Wostal and Kemp said they would serve on the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization. All except Cohen also will serve as directors of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.
The transit agency is facing the potential of an independent investigation after the Tampa Bay Times reported one of its top officers also was employed simultaneously by a transit agency in New Orleans.
Wostal already has signaled his displeasure with the Hillsborough transit agency’s CEO, Adelee Le Grand.
“Please, step down,” Wostal said in a Nov. 18 post on Twitter. “This glaring negligence and breach of trust to our community will not be tolerated.”