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Mitch Perry Report for 7.7.15 — Last call for change with Hillsborough County Board size?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Hillsborough County Charter Review Board meets again tonight at 6 p.m. at the County Center, where advocates for a several years-long push to expand or change the configuration of the seven-member Board of County Commissioners will have one last chance to persuade the majority that such a change is needed.

The odds are stacked against them.

The purveyors of status quo, none more prominent than former County Commissioner and now Charter Board member herself Jan Platt, remains fixated on keeping the board just the way it is, saying even though comparably sized local governments in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward allow for more single-district representation, things are just fine as is in Hillsborough.

The current question before the Board tonight has been simplified into really just one option: Keep the current configuration of the board, which has remained the same for 30 years — four commissioners elected in separate districts, and three seats voted on by the entire electorate. The option would be to expand the board by two members, creating five single-member districts and four countywide (or at-large, if you will).

Earlier proposals by advocates like Commissioners Les Miller and Kevin Beckner have been to keep the board at seven members, but simply add one more district seat and one less countywide one. The central argument behind much of this thinking is that the county has greatly expanded in the three decades since Platt and the other commissioners in the ’80s created the current configuration. There have been other proposals thrown in the mix as well, including expanding the board to nine members, with all of them single-member districts. (Brandon could have a district, and Temple Terrace, and South Tampa as well, argued one advocate last month).

The give and take on the board has been respectful, but still a bit disappointing over the past two meetings.

Concurrent with the argument that the board should change its configuration because of its huge growth is that the burgeoning Latino community in Hillsborough County feels disenfranchised. Ideally they’d like the board to draw up a majority-minority type district that would make it easier for a Hispanic candidate to win office. Their arguments are strong — Hillsborough County is nearly 30 percent Latino and growing, and yet there is no such representation on the board. The board does have a majority-minority black district (district 3).

Ideally there would be Hispanic candidates that both the Republican and Democratic parties in Hillsborough County would actively be recruiting to run. They haven’t done that, however, seemingly content to run the same candidates over and over. Is it up to the “community” to have their own candidates arrive organically? Yes, it would. But is it happening? No, it’s not.

That’s why it’s somewhat distressing to hear Platt dismiss such concerns as simply “identity politics.” If you didn’t have such identity politics, how many black lawmakers would have been elected over the past few decades in Hillsborough County? It’s a fair argument. The fact is that other than some School Board members, Hillsborough County voters don’t have much of a track record of electing blacks countywide, making Tom Scott’s chances of winning District 6 seat next year formidable (see more below).

However, advocates for changing the board haven’t done themselves a whole lot of favors either, in trying to advance their cause and get the majority of the board to come around to their side. Chris Cano’s threats last month that if the Commission didn’t change they would end up getting sued backfired big time, with County Attorney Mary Helen Farris saying flat out she didn’t believe the current board’s size was considered unconstitutional.

In other news…

State Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) is no shrinking violet. In an interview with this reporter last week, Gaetz called out Gov. Rick Scott regarding some of his more interesting vetoes last month. Gaetz said relationships are based on knowing where another person stands, “that they have principles that you can rely upon, and when they give their word they mean it, and that’s an area where I think Governor Scott has some work to do.”

Thomas Scott is officially running in the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Commissioner District  6 race next year, where he’ll face fellow Democrats Pat Kemp and Brian Willis.

Jeb Bush says he won’t be so eager as his bro, George W., when it comes to spreading democracy through the Middle East.

The City of Tampa just expanded the number of facilities open in the city this summer for teenagers to spend their time productively.

Marco Rubio’s nonprofit that has been airing ads blasting President Obama’s yet-to-be announced nuclear deal with Iran, Conservative Solutions Project, has raised nearly $16 million.

And we got a spare moment with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi last week — long enough for her to tell us why she thinks the Florida Solar Power constitutional amendment should be thrown off the 2016 ballot.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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