Sandra Murman's experience, personality and quiet confidence will be enormously useful in the coming year as she takes over as chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission. In selecting her Tuesday, the board signaled that it wanted a moderate leader and a forward-looking agenda, which is what the county needs as it considers new investments in transit, jobs and the social safety net in the coming year.
Murman, 64, is a Republican and former state legislator who has long championed children's issues. Her unanimous selection speaks to the reputation she has built among both Republicans and Democrats. She has a thorough understanding of how state and local governments work. She knows the back roads of this community, and she appreciates the role that Hillsborough plays across the Tampa Bay region. Murman has also taken on job development issues, preparing her to assume that policy area from former Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who left this week because of term limits.
The board is off to a good start by concluding its organizational session without creating new scores to settle. But it must quickly transition from ceremonial to substantive duties. A city-county work group is reading a new transit package, presumably for the 2016 ballot. Hillsborough is examining ways to better align its public investment and job recruitment efforts. The county also is remaking its housing program, looking to reauthorize a tax for children's services and poised to enter the discussions on keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the area.
With so much on the table, the commission needs to focus on the right priorities and demonstrate a higher level of engagement on the diciest issues, especially the proposal for a new tax-funded transit package. On that note, it was striking Tuesday that the board gave new Commissioner Stacy White, who opposes new taxes for transportation, seats on three critical boards — two that oversee county transit policy and a third that deals with regional job development efforts. This unexpected vote of confidence in White might at least expose him to the region's pressing need for a modern transit system, but it is another big gamble for a county that is falling behind in these areas.
In a welcome demonstration of bipartisanship, the new Pinellas County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint as 2015 chairman John Morroni. This will be the third time Morroni has chaired the commission, but the first as a Republican leading a commission with a majority of Democrats. Morroni knows the county and the issues well, and his even temperament serves him well in a leadership role.
In Hillsborough, Murman clearly has the desire to lead. She seems to have an ally in modernizing the county's approach to jobs and transit in Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has served ably as chairman and who has found a stronger voice on regional and transportation issues. Murman needs to bring the transit plan into sharper focus and begin work on a framework for a referendum in 2016. And she needs to help sell conservative commissioners and voters on the need for a new funding source for transit. There is no other issue more important to address as she leads the county in 2015.