Hillsborough County's top elected leaders met on the 26th floor of a downtown Tampa office tower this week for an important event: Lunch.
Hosted by County Commission Chairman Les Miller, the "chew and chat" was meant as an ice-breaker between city of Tampa and Hillsborough officials. For years, the two local governments - Tampa urban and Democratic, the county suburban and conservative - rarely saw eye-to-eye. But demographic and political changes in a growing county have aligned the two governments like never before. That was on full display in November, when voters countywide approved a new transportation tax and Democrats retook a commission majority.
Miller saw a chance to reset the relationship. Over turkey and roast beef sandwiches, elected city and county officials and staff made small talk about family and friends (impromptu policy discussions are forbidden by Florida law) and enjoyed casual conversation.
The face-time is important. While both governments are represented on many local boards, overseeing everything from mass transit and water to tourism, there are few opportunities for these officials to reflect on their shared identity. "Everything is by computer," Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda said. "You have to know each other before you can agree on anything."
The city's interests and the county's won't always be aligned. But these personal relationships foster understanding and mutual respect. The luncheon helped underscore that all these leaders live in the same community, drive the same roads, drink the same water and share a common goal of creating a better place. That's an hour well spent.