Higginbotham wants to ban all gifts from lobbyists to Commissioners by Mitch E. Perry

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After a nearly hour long discussion, the Hillsborough County Commission today voted unanimously to have the County’s staff research an Ordinace that would ban the Board from accepting gifts of any sort from a registered lobbyist.


That’s a softer version of the ethics ban that Commissioner Al Higginbotham had originally proposed.  That is, to put a ban on Commissioners receiving gifts from anyone.


Higginbotham said that the issue was more of symbolism – emphasizing that his intention was not because of any action committed by any body on the board in recent months or years.   (roll tape#1 o.q.”that we have”)


This is not the first time a Commissioner has tried to stamp out the perception of corruption on the Board…..Former Commissioner Kathy Castor attempted a similar ban a couple of years ago, but received virtually no support from any other board member.


Expressing the most annoyance then, and now, was Commissioner Ken Hagen, who asked in essence, why fix something that isn’t broken (roll tape#2 o.q.”than substance”) 


To support his argument that there is nothing to correct , Commissioner Hagen then solicited County Attorney Mary Ellen Ferris, who said that going back over the last 5 years, there is no record of Commissioners receiving gifts  (roll tape#3 o.q.”  


Much of the discussion then revolved around what is considered an actual gift.  Commissioner Mark Sharpe (roll tape#4 o.q.” I would say no”)


But Sharpe worried that he sounded like he was defending receiving such largess, when he insists that was not the case (roll tape#4 o.q.”I do not want that”)


Brian Blair said that there was no need for such an ethics law because, well, when you’re honest, why have such rules ? (roll tape#5 o.q.”you’re gonna get caught”)


Later on, Commissioner Mark Sharpe worried about whether he could accept Christmas gifts from a non family member, eliciting a response from Commissioner Ken Hagen

(roll tape#6 o.q.”absurd”)


So in the end, Commissioner Higginbotham changed his Ordinance to the banning of gifts from lobbyists.  The County Staff will research the issue, and bring it back before the board next month. 


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