Debate centers on cities' representation

Two lawmakers think seats on such boards as the EPC and Tampa Sports Authority should be based on population

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer
Published January 15, 2008

TAMPA - A proposal to change the makeup of the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission reignited an old debate over whether to give the county more representation on two other boards.

Yet at a town hall meeting Monday no one spoke for or against the piece of a local bill that would give the cities seats on the EPC.

Instead, the conversation focused on the Tampa Sports Authority and the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission.

Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz, the sponsor of the legislation, said seats on the boards should be awarded based on population.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, agreed.

"It is about more citizens across the county having an opportunity to have their voices heard," she said.

Making the calculation based on population would add seats to the EPC to include representatives from Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

The EPC is currently comprised solely of Hillsborough County's seven commissioners.

The move would also increase county representation on the Planning Commission and the Tampa Sports Authority.

City Council member Mary Mulhern had filed a bill sponsored by Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, to change only the EPC makeup, but Glorioso withdrew it last month.

Bruce Cury, chairman of the planning commission board, told the handful of state lawmakers who came to the meeting that his board works fine as it is.

"There's no indication change is needed," he said.

Cury said the board makeup should reflect the unique characteristics of the city and county.

Although 70 percent of Hillsborough residents live outside city limits, more people work in Tampa, and the city holds key economic engines such as the airport, the port, sports venues and universities.

But Apollo Beach businessman Michael Peterson advocated for the change, saying adding a position might mean the southern part of the county would have a better chance at representation.

City Attorney David Smith and Tampa finance director Bonnie Wise argued against changing the composition of the Tampa Sports Authority.

They said city taxpayers bear a double burden for Sports Authority expenses because they pay taxes to both the city and county.

County Commissioner Jim Norman and county administrator Pat Bean pressed lawmakers to support the changes. Bean called it an issue of "equity and fairness."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.