Leaders in Hillsborough fret over public attendance in transportation push

Published April 23, 2015

TAMPA — Some local leaders expressed concerns Wednesday that consultants haven't reached enough people after two months of meetings to build the consensus needed for a countywide transportation plan.

About 1,400 people attended 26 meetings since February to weigh in on the future of transportation in Hillsborough County, Bob Clifford of consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff told a group of county and city leaders who have been discussing transportation for the past two years. The consulting firm will conduct 10 more meetings before composing a draft of a community transportation plan by May 26.

Despite having about 50 people at each meeting, on average, some members of the group wondered whether enough was being done to draw in all demographics and engage the community.

"There's a lot of people who don't even know what this is," Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura said. "There's not a big buzz."

Similar questions arose previously when the meeting schedule was suggested in January. Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White advocated then for adding additional meetings, bringing the total to 36.

Leaders proposed ideas Wednesday to bump up attendance while also pondering whether low meeting turnout would prevent them from garnering enough support from voters in 2016 to approve a 1-cent sales tax for transportation.

Maybe more people would show up if there were snacks and drinks, some suggested.

Just mention the words "big box" and people will come pouring in, Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham said with a laugh.

What about a raffle? That idea came from Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, who offered a plan for drawing people in with the potential for winning a $3,000 property tax credit.

County attorneys would have to evaluate the legality of options before putting any into action.

County Administrator Mike Merrill explained that the process was focused on gathering qualitative input and that the format of the meetings allowed staff to interact with each of the attendees and aggregate meaningful data.

As far as attendance, Hillsborough Commissioners Ken Hagan and Les Miller said there is only so much to be done.

"We cannot force the public to attend these meetings," Hagan said. "I do not believe we have the luxury to delay. If we wait any longer, we'll only exacerbate the problem."