Forum hears the case for, against a county mayor

The woman who led the petition drive highlights a Tampa Bay Round Table meeting.

Published July 19, 2006

TAMPA - Mary Ann Stiles says she isn't as concerned about voters approving her idea for a county mayor as she is in giving them the chance to have a say.

"If we get it to the ballot and the people vote it down, it's not going to break my heart," said Stiles, a Tampa lawyer leading the charge by the Taking Back Hillsborough County Political Committee. "If the people decide this is not what they want, I will be more than happy. Just let them decide."

Stiles spoke Tuesday at a luncheon of the Tampa Bay Round Table, which offers a monthly forum for people in the news to talk with the community.

Stiles and her group had until July 10 to submit 37,202 signatures on each of two petitions to get an elected county mayor on the November ballot and to give him or her veto power. They turned in more than required.

The Supervisor of Elections Office has validated 47.1 percent of the signatures required to get the elected county mayor proposal on the ballot, Stiles said. About 5.12 percent have been rejected.

On the veto power petition, 28.1 percent of signatures had been validated with about 5.35 percent rejected by Tuesday. The elections office will have a final count on validated signatures Aug. 10.

County Commissioner Thomas Scott attended the luncheon and said he doesn't support Stiles' efforts. He points to Miami-Dade County, where voters recently approved an elected county mayor and it turned into "chaos."

"Even if it gets to the ballot, I don't think voters will go for it," Scott said.

Stiles said the county lacks a leader with vision who can bring an agenda supported by residents to the County Commission.

Bob Buckhorn, a former Tampa City Council member and now political analyst, attended the luncheon and agreed with Stiles.

"(Commissioners) are spending time on frivolous and petty issues," Buckhorn said. "It's hard to hold seven people accountable. It's easy to hold one."

Under the current system, three of the seven commissioners are elected countywide and four are elected from geographic districts. The board hires a professional administrator to run the day-to-day operations of government. The county adopted the seven-member system in the 1980s after a bribery scandal.

Kevin Graham can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.