tampabay.com

Bid to increase county's clout on boards fails

State Rep. Kevin Ambler's idea to have greater county representation is protested.

By BILL VARIAN
Published February 2, 2007


TAMPA - An effort to boost the clout of Hillsborough County residents on agencies that help govern land-use decisions and operations at professional sports venues has died, for now.

State Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz, agreed to table two bills that would have boosted the county's representation on the Tampa Sports Authority and the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission during a meeting of the county's legislative delegation Thursday.

The move came after city of Tampa officials and some activists protested to the delegation during Thursday's public hearing that they shouldn't change something that doesn't need fixing and were inviting politics into the decisions of those agencies.

Ambler and some county officials have argued that the County Commission should be given more appointments to both boards to reflect demographic changes in recent decades that have resulted in twice as many people living in unincorporated areas as inside its three cities.

"Population is not the key to these boards," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. "It's efficient management.

"We are one community and have to work together ... and make sure all institutions are equally represented."

While Ambler contends that a disproportionate share of county tax revenue pays to run both agencies, Iorio pointed out that city residents are paying some of those county taxes, as are people who visit city attractions and stay in city hotels.

Some members of the delegation subsequently suggested that the cities and county be given time to work out a solution without the state Legislature forcing one on them. When it was clear there were enough opposing votes to scuttle both bills, Ambler agreed to table them until next year, when he said he will revive the issue if a solution isn't reached.

"One year from today when we meet again, this issue will be back on the agenda, I assure you," Ambler said.

Hillsborough commission Chairman Jim Norman, who spoke in favor of the bill related to the Sports Authority, said he has reached out so far and so often to Tampa that he feels like Gumby.

Iorio refuted that account, saying she and her top staff met once in 2005 with Norman and former state Sen. Jim Sebesta about the issue and disagreed then.

Staff writer Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at 813 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.