The Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting today had only a few really interesting things. Among them were some accidental slips:
Rep. Kevin Ambler, the outgoing chairman, had trouble at the beginning remembering that Arthenia Joyner, Charlie Justice, and Ronda Storms are Senators.
Sen. Storms once referred her fellow delegation members as “board members,”
Senator Storms, continuing her previous practice, voted against the a special alcohol license for the Tampa Bay History Center. Hers was the lone dissenting vote on Local Bill 05.
The two controversial bills (as described in my Part II post earlier today) were Local Bills 03 and 04. Representative Ambler, sponsor of the bills, gave an eloquent explanation of the bills. The delegation has the authority and responsibility to review state-created, local-entities such as the Tampa Sports Authority and Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. Such review should take into consideration the operations of the agency and circumstances of the community as a whole, including changes in the population.
The first member of the public to speak on the bill was Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. She described the reasons for the city’s opposition to the bills. That other boards, such as the Aviation Authority and the Port Authority, do not factor population in determining the composition of their governing boards. Moreover, while the City is only on the hook for 1/3rd of any cost overruns for the Sports Authority, it expends a significant amount of money for security and law enforcement, and donated the land for Raymond James Stadium. Additionally, since sports facilities are funded with sales taxes and tourist development taxes, the vast majority of which are collected within the city, the City has a vested right to retain it’s share of the governing board.
County Administrator Pat Bean and County Commissioner Jim Norman presented the county’s position. The change would more accurately reflect the current population in the county, as well as the future liabilities the county will assume. Additionally, Raymond James Stadium and the St. Petersburg Times Forum are county-owned facilities.
In debate, Senator Storms explained that other boards do not have the same liabilities – the Port Authority, for example, is not funded by the county. She gave an analogy of a wedding: traditionally, the bride’s family pays for the reception, and the groom gives her and her family full latitude to determine the costs. However, the current governance structure of these boards is akin to giving the groom control over the details of the reception.
At this point, I was beginning to think the bills might actually pass. Until Rep. Trey Traviesa spoke.
Rep. Traviesa gave an eloquent speech outlining his thoughts on the bill. He did not like the fact that the City and County opposed each other, felt as if it were a “family dispute” and that they should settle their differences before the Legislature acted. He recognized that Hillsborough County had a compelling argument, but that the City’s concerns are also valid – balancing long-term liability with previous contributions, as well as ongoing costs to both governments. He would be voting against the bills.
Representative Faye Culp stated she agreed with Rep. Traviesa. That there was not enough conversation before the bills were brought to the delegation.
Rep. Bill Galvano felt that the delegation was missing the point of the meeting, that the bills should be voted out of the delegation and sent to Tallahassee for a more full discussion. However, Rep. Rich Glorioso disagreed, stating that they should not be debated in Tallahassee until the city and county worked out their differences.
Senator Charlie Justice said that, perhaps for the first time, he agreed with everything Rep. Traviesa said. He felt that the issues would get lost in Tallahassee. He also described a situation in Pinellas County dealing with a fire control district (also created by a special act), the Pinellas delegation forced the county, cities and fire control district to work out their differences.
Ultimately, it was clear that the bills would not pass.
Representative Ambler wrapped up the debate on these bills by warning the city and county that these bills, or ones similar, would be presented against next year. Then he tabled both bills.
It is unfortunate that the delegation members would abdicate their responsibility in this way. Issues in Tallahassee often have two (or more) sides that disagree, often vehemently. Yet, in those circumstances, these members are more than happy to cast a vote.
In the long run, it may be the right decision. Passing the bills today would have taken the fight from 16 members to 160. The City and County would be lobbying first the House Committee on Urban and Local Affairs, then House Government Efficiency and Accountability Council, then the whole House of Representatives, then the Senate. (That is generally the process through which local bills go.)
Still, that would have been a fun fight to watch.
[Disclosure: I worked for Rep. Ambler from 2002-2004.]