By Kyle LoJacono
Less than a month after tentatively approving a plan to take voting out of the selection of its chairman, the Hillsborough County Commission reversed its decision in favor of the old method.
Commissioners will continue to select their leader by popular vote, with the chairman serving for one year. They had agreed to rotate the position through the county’s seven districts as a way to remove outside influences from affecting the vote.
The 4-3 vote in favor of keeping the older system came against the impassioned pleas from Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Les Miller, the only two Democrats on the board.
“I feel compelled to speak out about a sickness that is so pervasive on this board which refuses to correct itself,” said Miller, who proposed the nonvoting option for selecting the chairman. “That sickness is the outside influence exerted by those with political agendas on members of this board.”
Commissioners Mark Sharpe and Sandra Murman said they had changed their minds, but added it had nothing to do with any outside influences altering their thoughts. Sharpe said he didn’t want the board’s “power to choose a chairman taken away” by a new policy.
“I would prefer that we just basically leave it the way it is,” Sharpe said. “And I say that not from any pressure that may have come from outside, from the party or not, because I often take on my own party and I have no problem with that whatsoever.”
Sharpe defended his position by pointing out that the now dead policy change would have made him the new chairman for the 2012-13 cycle. The at-large commissioner was endorsed by outgoing chairman Al Higginbotham to take over the post, but Ken Hagan was voted for by five of the seven board members.
In the end, Miller, Beckner and Victor Crist voted for the nonvoting option, while the other four commissioners opted to maintain the current system. Hagan and Murman changed their votes from a previous meeting where they favored the measure, but gave no reason for the flip.
The outcome angered Miller, who read quotes from various board members from a previous meeting that indicated they favored the change.
Murman had said she was “fully supportive” of the rotating chairmanship, adding the change had “merit.” Miller said he believes the reversal of opinion came from outside Republican influences telling those members to not give up any political influence on the commission.
“I implore you to free yourselves today,” Miller said.
Beckner added, “You know in your hearts this is the right policy. We should rely on a process whose foundation is inclusion and fairness. … I always felt this board that I’m sitting with today is a board that is about good ideas and not hard-line ideology, people and not politics.”
Crist pointed out that it makes little sense for anyone to try and influence commissioners’ votes for their symbolic leader because, “The chairman has no more power than the rest of us.”
The chairman does guide the commission’s meetings and receives an extra $10,000 in pay, but has no more authority to make policy than the other members.
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