“By joining together, we can be more effective,” said Pinellas County Commission Chairman Charlie Justice at a Tampa fundraiser for his re-election campaign.
Justice has been on the trail since last October, so far drawing one competitor, the well-funded Republican Mike Mikurak.
But Thursday night, at Southern Strategy Group’s Tampa Bay office, Justice’s message wasn’t focused on competition, but cooperation between local governments — an issue which Justice believes Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties have recently excelled at.
“Over the last year, Pinellas and Hillsborough have joined together on a couple issues I think are important to all of us,” said Justice to the crowd.
“We have formed the International Export Alliance,” continued Justice, “which joins the Hillsborough Economic Development Council and the Pinellas Economic Development Council, and helps our local businesses […] get their goods on the international market.”
To date, according to Justice, the IEA has had successful trips to Chile, Toronto, and Costa Rica, among other places.
Justice also pointed to the recent work done through the Tampa Bay Estuary Board, which includes Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, as well as the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa.
“The work that this board has done has led to the quality of Tampa Bay being the best it’s been in 50 years.”
According to the TBEB, Tampa Bay is seeing the highest levels of sea grass, the largest snook population, and the best water clarity it has since the late 1950s.
“All those things are important if you like to fish or be on the water,” said Justice. “And all those things are very important to the economic viability of our area.”
Justice also highlighted Hillsborough and Pinellas’ decision to back off from this year’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery [TIGER] grant money. Instead, both counties will support the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s joint application for those same dollars.
According to Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard, the move, “sends not only a powerful symbolic sign of partnership at the regional level, but, in a very real way, could advantage this application and make it more successful.”
Should the tactic pay off, the TIGER dollars would go toward a regional fare box system aimed at providing a consistent bus payment plan for Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Citrus and Hernando counties.
As Justice put it, the decision was made, “to better serve the public – whether they’re on a HART bus or a PSTA bus.”
Justice also mentioned another joint effort by Pinellas and Hillsborough in the near future, but didn’t disclose any details.
His next fundraiser is slated for 5:30 p.m. April 19 at Pipo’s Cuban Café in St. Pete.