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    A Times Editorial

    Misplaced honor in Hillsborough

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 20, 2003

    Hillsborough's next Moral Courage Award should go to the county commissioner who puts this discredited award out of existence.

    It would be one thing if there were policies in place that could immunize this award from politics and hypocrisy -- tightening eligibility rules, perhaps, or giving Commissioners Tom Scott and Jim Norman only half a vote apiece. But it's clear this award is less about honoring courage than honoring political clout.

    The award was created in the 1990s with good intentions: to honor, in the aftermath of a commission vote-buying scandal, the county's commitment to ethical government. The first winner was an environmental activist who battled the county over garbage dumps.

    This sort of citizen initiative from the little guy on behalf of public health and welfare is what the award was intended to recognize and foster. But it has been mugged over the years by politicians and publicity-seekers who pursue narrow and self-serving agendas. Former Mayor Dick Greco was nominated for sneaking off to Cuba. County Commissioner Ronda Storms was nominated for demagoguing a free speech issue that has cost taxpayers more than $140,000. The trend is apparent: An award to honor the small guy who stands up to the big and powerful has been appropriated by the big and powerful guys.

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