County mayor belongs on ballot in November
April 3, 2010
The Hillsborough County Commission, with its county administrator and county attorney both at home on mandatory paid leave while being investigated, should honor the will of the people and put the question of a county mayor on the November ballot.
Most board members don't like the idea of electing an administrator. The high-profile post would diminish their power.
It would, but no one commissioner has much individual power under the existing system. A consistent criticism of county government is its lack of strong leadership. Accountability is slippery, and direction is unclear.
No matter who is elected to the board and who the board hires as administrator, that structural problem will remain.
When things go wrong, the board can blame the manager, and the manager can blame the board. The public is frustrated.
Tampa lawyer Mary Ann Stiles, who led petition drives in 2006 and 2008 to put the mayor question on the ballot, will ask commissioners Tuesday to do what she so far has been unable to do. Give voters a chance to decide.
Once the question is sure to be asked, the debate can resume in earnest on the plusses and minuses of the change. On Election Day, the public will finally get a chance to settle the issue.
Stiles almost got enough petitions signed four years ago, despite little cooperation from the then-supervisor of elections. She did get enough two years ago, but a technicality - an incorrect date in the petition - kept the proposed charter amendment off the ballot.
A companion question, whether to give the new county mayor veto power, did get on the 2008 ballot and passed with 53 percent of the vote.
Passage came when there was no public controversy over the county administrator's performance, yet voters gave veto power to a position that doesn't even exist. The message they sent was that they do want a mayor.
"We're not adding another layer of government," Stiles tells us. "She (current County Administrator Pat Bean) already has five professional administrators working for her."
Stiles and a distinguished group of volunteers are working to get some 42,000 new petitions signed by the July 31 deadline. If they knock on enough doors, they will easily get the signatures.
Ask folks you know if they want a chance to elect the person in Pat Bean's job. Our experience is that most will say yes.
Based on the election results of 2008, the pro-mayor committee shouldn't have to go to all that trouble. The board itself can ask voters the question.
Urban areas like Hillsborough need a strong leader. The county's appointed professional, working for an ever-changing majority on a seven-member board, has had little success offering a clear vision.
An appointed administrator works well for a rural community without major metropolitan needs. Urban areas need high-profile mayors who can respond quickly to issues or business opportunities.
A successful Hillsborough County mayor could run for governor or the U.S. Senate. The position would attract the best available candidates, and their campaigns would highlight the biggest countywide issues.
If you want to vote for mayor, send a message to your county commissioner. Or to directly participate, go to Web site www.countymayor.com, print out a petition, sign it and send it to Stiles.
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