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Panel kills charter government move in Pasco County

NEW PORT RICHEY — A citizens committee killed the push for a charter government in Pasco County on Monday afternoon, voting 8-7 not to pursue changes in how the county operates.

"I haven't heard anything that would make Pasco County a better place,'' committee member and retired County Administrator John Gallagher said after three months of meetings.

The vote Monday followed an appearance before the panel by Pasco's legislative delegation, including Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who started this public debate in January. Corcoran, the speaker designate in the Florida House of Representatives, had sought a charter that included an elected county mayor, single-member districts for commissioners, term limits and a recall provision.

Pasco is governed by five commissioners, who must live in a geographical district, but are elected countywide. They appoint a county administrator and they are not subjected to term limits or recall elections.

On Monday, Corcoran focused on the cost of government, lamenting Pasco's impact fees on new construction and the commission's 2014 vote to raise the gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon. He suggested a charter form of government would curb spending.

"The more government is in our lives, the worse our quality of life is,'' Corcoran told the committee.

But the pitch for a county mayor, instead of an appointed administrator, fell flat even among other legislators.

"That would be a horrible idea,'' said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

"If a county mayor is controversial, chuck it out the window,'' Corcoran said later.

Several of the committee members challenged Corcoran's points. Former Zephyrhills Mayor Cliff McDuffie asked why Pasco should consider a charter with recall provisions when state legislators don't face that same scrutiny. Chuck Grey, chairman of the Pasco Planning Commission, alluded to Corcoran's comments about government costs in charter counties, saying "don't tell me Hillsborough County is anything to hold up as something to aspire to.''

The committee, appointed by county commissioners and state legislators, is an advisory panel to the county. Its recommendations are non-binding, but commissioners previously said they would seek a voter referendum on a charter only if it was supported by two-thirds of the committee. All five committee members appointed by state legislators voted to write the charter as did the two appointees from Commissioner Mike Moore, but they found themselves in the minority.

"I've always said I have confidence in the (citizens) board. If that's the decision that's their decision,'' Corcoran said after the vote. "I would feel much better about a rejection from voters instead of a 15-member board, but that was the system that was set up.''

Contact C.T. Bowen at Follow @CTBowen2