COUNTY MAYOR GROUP BRINGS PETITIONS TO ELECTIONS OFFICE-Andrew Stelzer

06/30/06

The move to have an elected mayor in Hillsborough County took one more step on the long road to becoming reality today. Supporters brought more than 20 thousand signed petitions to the supervisors of elections office, who will soon begin counting them to determine if the proposal will be n the ballot for voters to decide in November. More than a dozen people gathered at the county elections supervisors’ office on Falkenburg road this morning, with the bed of a pick up truck filled with boxes of petitions.

ACT-sound “Right now were unloading the boxes to take me inside…a lot of boxes..extremely heavy…we should have driven em over..�

There were 18 cartons of signed petitions in total, an estimated 50,000. The group was submitting copies of two different petitions. One, which would create a mayor of Hillsborough county, who would replace to current county administrator. The second would provide that county mayor with veto power over the county commission. The commission could then overrule a veto. Supporters believe that the current county commission is not representing the peoples wishes, and that the voters should be allowed to decide for themselves.

ACT-Millie �I believe in the cause we should be represented..�

ACT-Brenda “I believe we need a mayor, more representation for the county and the city..�

ACT-Bob Samuels “I certainly believe the citizens should be able..have you read the Tampa Tribune, I wrote and article..�

Bob Samuels article on the editorial page of the Tribune detailed his experience as a member of the county charter review board in the 1990’s, when he suggested that as the county was growing, it needed a single, non-partisan elected leader to steer the course. He was outvoted 13 to 1 at the time, but now the same idea is gaining support. Next to Samuels op-ed, the Tampa Tribunes editors decided to print their own editorial supporting the idea of a county mayor, as well as the unusual step of reprinting the petitions and encouraging readers to sign them and mail them in to the supervisor of elections office by July 7th. Hillsborough county supervisor of elections says that the newspaper petitions would likely be valid, but he’s not sure.

ACT-Johnson “The paper called me and asked..Angeline asked and said there are smudges, you have a whole another set of possible questions..this is a different concept than I’ve ever seen..�

Johnson and county elections staff received the petitions proceeded to weigh them, to try and get a rough count of the number of petitions submitted before they go through each one individually to determine if it was signed by a registered Hillsborough county voter. Mary Ann Stiles, the leader of the group pushing the initiative, called take Back Hillsborough County, brought a check to pay for what turned out to be more than 496 pounds of petitions, and said another 9,000 were being delivered later in the day.

ACT-Stiles ‘We have been collecting for 3 months..this is we need…we also need 8% larger districts.YOU SAID 30k, you are aiming for $%…most people have 6 months to do this..we only had about 3 months, half the time..�

Stiles had several verbal exchanges with elections supervisor Buddy Johnson regarding a decision Johnson made to ask the state attorney general if the petitions were handed in too late. Florida Voters approved a law last year to make it so that any items that would appear on the ballot which would changes to the state constitution must be submitted by February 1st. The Hillsborough County charter, however says that items to appear on the ballot, signatures must be certified only 90 days before the election, which this year in July 10th. So when the group had their petition approved in April, Johnson decided that there may be some discrepancy between the two deadlines, and he them took two months to write up a request to the attorney general for clarification. While Johnson has been accused of stalling the petition drive, he flatly denied it was because of the issue at hand, and said he simply didn’t want to print the ballot in August and then have it challenged in court..

ACT-Johnson “Some of the opposition to my questions sounds like obstruction..it would have been nice to hear..but the court does not hear a question…we knew the question might arise..when the word came out in April and you didn’t get it done until June…the reason we got the petition approved..then you have to do all the research..lawyers have to prepare, we had to go to the county attorney, more or less, do the research, and I think its gone remarkably quickly..�

The attorney general has until July 5th to issue and opinion on the issue. Assuming he finds the county deadline still applies, July 10th is the deadline to get the signatures in, then the supervisor of elections office has 30 days to let them know if they got enough signatures to qualify. Although Stiles has been targeted as the leader of the movement by several Hillsborough county commissioners, those who delivered the petitions included former Tampa city councilman Bob Buckhorn.

ACT-Buckhorn “I believe people should have the choice..also my daughters, I want them to move back..�

ACT-Buckhorn “I've worked in a strong mayor gov..we have to many transportation needs..we need and we don’t have that right now…�

Buckhorn notes that the fact the current county commissioner have spent so much time speaking out against the proposal means it must be doing something good. Former Hillsborough county commissioner Dottie Berger McKinnon, also a supporter of the county mayor proposal says the current system just isn’t working.

ACT-Dottie Berger Mckinnon “We need to have a leader who can focus. I don’t see anyone address transportation..but this county is going to increase by 5-% in the next 25 years..someone needs to get a hold of that now..CANT WE GET A BAD COUNTY MAYOR..yes but they will vote em out of office..�

To view or print out the petition, and learn more about the county mayor proposal, log onto http://www.takingbackhillsboroughcountypoliticalcommittee.com/

Johnson also said that there will be a special election to replace Ronda Storms. All candidates who have already qualified to run in 2008, will be asked if they prefer to run for this fall; other candidates still have 2 weeks to file for the open seat. Those candidates include republicans Ken Faliero and Al Higgenbotham, and democrats Lisa Rodriguez and James Rowell.

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