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County commission in brief

Panel on women urged to avoid abortion issue

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 17, 2003

TAMPA -- Hillsborough commissioners voted Wednesday to direct a newly authorized advisory committee on women's issues to steer clear of the topic of abortion.

Commissioners voted two weeks ago to recreate a Commission on the Status of Women to advise them on issues ranging from daycare to workplace discrimination. A similar committee previously existed, and its reformation was urged by former state Sen. Helen Gordon-Davis.

However, Commissioner Ronda Storms expressed concern that the committee would wade into traditionally left-wing causes. She asked the board to direct the group to remain silent on issues relating to abortion.

Her request failed at that meeting on a deadlocked 3-3 vote, with Commissioner Jim Norman absent. With his presence Wednesday, Storms raised the issue again and commissioners agreed 6-1 to direct the group to avoid the topic.

Commissioner Pat Frank, who brought the issue forward initially on behalf of Gordon-Davis, voted no.

Board backs bill that would empower county to veto wells

TAMPA -- A divided Hillsborough Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday to write a letter supporting a state House bill that critics say could threaten the Tampa Bay Water utility.

The bill, backed by House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, would let cities and counties veto new wells proposed by water utilities -- such as Tampa Bay Water -- in their own back yards. If it becomes law, it would enable commissioners to block a proposed wellfield in eastern Hillsborough known as Cone Ranch, which Tampa Bay Water has on its to-do list.

Byrd has long warned Tampa Bay Water against pursuing the project, which he and nearby residents say would cause environmental damage in an area already hurt by past overpumping.

Tampa Bay Water was created in 1998 as the water utility for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties to end long-standing water wars. Its ability to develop new water sources, such as a desalination plant and reservoir in Hillsborough County, has relied on a provision that no member government can singlehandedly veto a project.

Supporting commissioners argued that Hillsborough County is the donor county and should have a right to block potentially harmful projects, especially since Tampa Bay Water was created in part to lessen the reliance on groundwater.

Chairman Tom Scott and commissioners Jan Platt and Kathy Castor voted against sending a letter of support for the legislation.

Auditor candidate abandons job pursuit

TAMPA -- One of three finalists for Hillsborough County's new office of independent performance auditor has withdrawn her name from consideration.

Beryl Davis, the audit and evaluation director for the city of Orlando, informed the county this week that she is no longer interested after sitting through an interview the week before. Davis apparently expressed concerns about the level of support staff she would have in the office given its responsibilities to conduct audits and advise commissioners on budget matters.

As designed now, the new Hillsborough auditor would have one assistant. Davis told the county's Human Resources Department she currently has 11 employees in an office that performs similar duties for a city with a $600-million budget (compared with a roughly $2.7 billion budget in Hillsborough).

Commissioners elected not to choose another finalist for final interviews.

The remaining finalists are Kenneth Johnson, the internal auditor for the city of El Paso, Texas; and Kathleen Mathews, internal audit director for Loudon County, Va.

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