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GOP-leaning Pinellas commission picks Democratic chair, has first spat

The new-look County Commission kept to a seniority-based succession plan for chairperson, but didn’t approve all of her board assignments.
 
Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long is the board's chairperson for 2023, commissioners decided in a unanimous vote Tuesday. But one of her first recommendations — that she serve on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's board — was rejected by other commissioners, who said new commissioner and charter-bus company owner Brian Scott ought to have that role.
Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long is the board's chairperson for 2023, commissioners decided in a unanimous vote Tuesday. But one of her first recommendations — that she serve on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's board — was rejected by other commissioners, who said new commissioner and charter-bus company owner Brian Scott ought to have that role. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 13, 2022|Updated Dec. 13, 2022

CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission has its first Republican majority in nearly a decade, thanks to newcomer Brian Scott’s success in flipping his seat red on Election Day, but its 2023 iteration will still have a Democrat as chairperson.

Commissioners went along with a seniority-based succession plan in a unanimous vote Tuesday, in the board’s first meeting with Scott and fellow new addition Chris Latvala, a Republican former state House member.

Janet Long is the commission’s new chairperson, succeeding Charlie Justice, a fellow Democrat; both were first elected to the board in 2012. The chairperson runs meetings, works closely with county administrative staff and makes recommendations on which commissioners should sit on various boards and committees.

It was in the last category that Long faced her first opposition of the new term. Though she’d recommended herself to sit on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority — a seat she’s had before — the commission decided the appointment ought to go to Scott, a charter-bus company owner who held a volunteer position on the Transit Authority board from 2012 to 2018.

Kathleen Peters, a Republican, also was approved unanimously as vice chairperson.

When it came time to approve committee and board assignments, though, Peters said she was concerned. The Transit Authority, in getting ready for the new year, had already set its own committee assignments, including Long, Peters pointed out. But, she said, she thought Scott would be a better pick, by virtue of his experience in the transportation business.

“It’s just a good fit,” she told Long. “As chair, you’ve got your hands full.”

Commissioner Republican Dave Eggers agreed, saying Scott’s industry knowledge was a boost to the Transit Authority. He said that when Scott hadn’t been reappointed to his volunteer position in 2018, it was a sign of the County Commission’s anti-conservative bias. Justice said he thought commissioners simply liked another candidate better.

The county’s lawyers had already determined, in 2012, that it wouldn’t be a conflict of interest for Scott to sit on the Transit Authority board. Scott noted Tuesday that his company, Escot Bus Lines, “does zero business with PSTA.”

The volunteer position was “a time consuming job I took extremely seriously,” Scott said. “I don’t think I ever missed a single meeting.”

Commissioners agreed to take the rest of Long’s recommendations. Long argued her case to return to the transit board, pointing to her own experience and saying she’d put Scott on the time-intensive board for Forward Pinellas, the county’s development planning agency.

“I just would really really appreciate it if we could leave the appointments the way they are, for a lot of reasons,” she said.

When it came to the yeas and nays, though, Long quietly acquiesced. The new-look commission’s first argument ended in another unanimous vote.