The top elected officials from the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County took their hands off the levers of power momentarily to spend time with Leadership Tampa’s Class of 2014 during Government Day, sharing with the Class what they do to make Hillsborough County and Tampa such dynamic places to live and work. Starting with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a dozen local government leaders visited LT 14 at the offices of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. They discussed the responsibilities of their respective offices and the challenges facing local government, then fielded the always-engaging questions of the Best Class Ever.
Mayor Buckhorn painted a compelling picture of Tampa as a city at a unique moment in its history, poised to become a great American city. He touted the city’s success in hosting the Republican Convention in 2012, and, more recently, in attracting the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards, as evidence of the city’s growing prestige. The “Bollywood Oscars,” scheduled in Tampa for April 23-26, 2014, is expected to draw 800 million television viewers, compared to about 120 million television viewers for the 2014 Super Bowl, he said.
The Mayor encouraged class members, as future leaders of the city, to “not settle for mediocrity” but to build upon Tampa’s current successes and engage in creating a strong economic climate to attract quality employment opportunities. Otherwise, he warned, our children will move to cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, or Nashville after completing their education. To ensure that doesn’t happen, Tampa needs to draw upon and market its existing strengths: a diverse and well-educated population, a hospitable climate, and an diverse economic base including tourism, agriculture, construction, finance, health care, government, technology, and the Port of Tampa, a distribution gateway to Southeast.
Mayor Buckhorn, as well as other local leaders, uniformly agreed that for Tampa Bay area to fully succeed, it must address its transportation issues, particularly the congested roadways and lack of transit alternatives. Apart from Detroit, Tampa Bay is the only major metropolitan area in the United States lacking a rail transit system of any sort. While all roadways appears to be at full capacity, Hillsborough County has completed or commenced all major road expansion plans, and there is no major projects or funding for them in the works, according to Hillsborough County Commissioner and Vice Chair Sandra L. Murman Cmsr., who addressed LT 14 along with Hillsborough County Chief Financial Officer Bonnie Wise and Deputy County Administrator Hillsborough County Lucia Garsys. Murman, Wise, and Garsys conducted a joint presentation providing LT 14 with an overview of services furnished by Hillsborough County’s wide-range of departments, including transportation projects, fire rescue, animal services, code enforcement, the medical examiner’s office, and parks, recreation and conservation.
LT 14 also heard from each of Hillsborough County’s constitutional officers: Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer; Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden; Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez; and Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank. After getting a better understanding of responsibilities and challenges of coordinating all elections in the county, collecting and appraising taxes in the county, and keeping the county’s court system operating smoothly, LT 14 enjoyed lunch and an entertaining presentation by Kathy Barcena Betancourt, a proud USF alum and former city official who has served as a lobbyist for her alma mater for the past seventeen years. Ms. Betancourt candidly discussed the inner-workings of state government gleaned from her experience as a lobbyist, and demonstrated her lively sense of humor and gregariousness that she said has been a necessity for success as a lobbyist.
Controversy and partisan politics were refreshingly absent from Government Day, which illustrated the commonly-cited phrase “all politics is local.” Local government certainly encapsulates the principal underlying that phrase – that a politician’s success depends upon his ability to understand and address the issues of importance to his or her constituents, usually the mundane and everyday concerns like fixing potholes rather than big and intangible politically divisive issues. Tampa City Council Member and Chair Pro Tem Harry Cohen, whose district includes South Tampa, understands the importance of those mundane and everyday concerns to his constituents. Responding to constituents calls about seemingly trivial issues is the very substance of local government, and Cohen’s office regularly fields constituent calls. If you want to test his office’s phone lines, try leaving an orange cone on the bridge to Davis Island.
However, politics does have a place in local government. By a remarkable coincidence, every seat on the Tampa City Council was vacant on Government Day, so ten members of LT 14 volunteered (some involuntarily) to run for office. Each of them delivered impressive stump speeches punctuated with compelling reasons why he or she should be elected, and they employed various tactics. David Capece found that campaign promises go over better after plying the voters with shots of champagne (rumor has it he was the top vote-getter). Robert Teachey pledged to do exactly that the voters decided he should do. And, Jonathan Moore vastly out-spent his opponents, staging an all-out media blitz and trouncing the grass-roots campaigns of the lesser-funded candidates. Despite reports of duplicative ballots, ghost-voting and other improprieties, LT 14 elected a full city council, including the aforementioned class members as well as Debra Delise, Dawn Phillips, Rick Houston and Kerri-Lyn Francis.
After the election, LT 14 walked over to Old City Hall to take the city council for a test drive: conducting a public hearing on an actual ordinance. First, however, LT 14 stopped by the office of City Clerk Shirley Foxx-Knowles, who discussed the role and duties of her office; Tampa’s Chief Financial Officer Sonya Little also addressed the class. Then, after some explanation from Councilman Cohen on how the city council operates, the new LT 14 Counsel Members were installed and conducted a public hearing on an ordinance to regulate and restrict certain after-hour sales of alcohol. The rest of the class participated in the hearing as proponents and opponents of the ordinance. Pairs of class members made presentations in favor of the ordinance on behalf of neighborhood associations or against the ordinance on behalf of businesses and business associations. The rest of us interrupted the proceedings and acted rowdy (as instructed). Class member John Newman stole the show, putting on an award-winning performance as a disgruntled citizen angrily and loudly airing his complaints to the newly-installed city council. However, it was not entirely clear whether or not he was supporting the ordinance, which was tabled, and then voted down, by the council in their one and only act as a legislative body.
All in all, Government Day was a very interesting and rewarding experience, and the election/public hearing activity was a fun first-hand experience with government in action. The Day provided the Class with valuable insight into the many services and responsibilities provided by our local governments that make Tampa Bay such a dynamic place to live and work. A special “thank you” is owed to our Day Chairs Julie Harris (LT 02) of Grow Federal Credit Union, Kareem Spratling (LT 12) of Bryant Miller Olive, and Stephanie Agliano (LT 09) of Agliano Utility Solutions, and to our Sponsors Julie Harris and Jason Moss (LT 13) of Grow Financial.