Hillsborough hearing master under fire

12/05/07 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Today Hillsborough County Commissioners listened to citizen complaints about a hearing process that may not have been handled appropriately.

Commissioners received angry e-mails from citizens after a land use hearing last month about the behavior of hearing officer Harold Youmans regarding a proposed borrow pit in northwest Hillsborough County.

The County Attorney’s office has said it will review transcripts of that meeting, but citizen Denise Layne told the board today that would not work.

Layne says Assistant County Attorney Louis Whitehead also needs to be investigated; therefore, it would be a conflict of interest for the County Attorney’s office to investigate itself.

Layne and others who opposed the borrow pit say they were not given sufficient time to answer hours of testimony from people who support the borrow pit, including county staff members.

Foes of the pit also say that the representative for developer Stephen Dibbs received more time to present his side.

Layne said she didn’t have a problem personally with the two individuals mentioned, nor County Attorney Renee Lee, but emphasized that the county should hire an independent counsel to investigate for the sake of fairness.

A few moments later, Marcella O’Steen mentioned a land use meeting held back in June where she slammed the same two officials currently under fire.

O’Steen said she based her case on the cumulative impact in the Land Use Code. But she said after she finished her testimony, she was subject to inappropriate remarks from hearing officer Youmans.

Lee, the county attorney, says she takes the criticism seriously, and her staff is investigating.

County Commissioners Mark Sharpe, Rose Ferlita and Ken Hagen all indicated that they would support talking about the issue later in the day. Ferlita said she supported Layne’s call for an independent investigation.

But Commissioner Jim Norman said everybody needed to slow down. He said that any type of investigation should come after the hearing master offers his decision on the borrow pit request.

The rest of the board agreed.

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