MPO thwarts bid to fire executive director

04/01/08 Mitch E. Perry
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The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization today rejected an initial motion by County Commissioner Mark Sharpe to fire MPO Executive Director Lucie Ayer.

But Sharpe’s move – which blindsided some MPO members when his intentions were reported this morning in the Tampa Tribune, ultimately led to a calm, two-hour discussion about the board’s goals in trying to bring mass transit to the region.

But Sharpe was on the spot as the meeting began, and was called out immediately by MPO Chairman and Temple Terrace Mayor Joe Affonti.

Sharpe apologized for the way his idea was presented, but said under Florida Sunshine laws, he could not meet with any of his fellow MPO members in private to brief them of his concerns.

Sharpe said he had met with Ayre in the past about his concerns. But he said it was his discussions with transportation officials, both locally and nationally, that convinced him Ayres should go.

Most of Sharpe’s fellow MPO members defending Ayers' work and her role. Some, like County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, decried Sharpe's tactics. Ferlita thought little of Sharpe’s original motion, which would be to begin looking for a new executive director, but allow Ayer, who has served in that role for the past 12 years, also to apply.

Tampa City Councilman Thomas Scott said the MPO board serves as Ayre’s boss, and he questioned whether the board had ever given her strong directions to lead. Scott said the only local body that can decide whether to go with mass transit is the Board of County Commissioners, a move that was rejected in 1999 and 2002.

Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder called the discussion healthy but said he was a bit bewildered to learn that that Lucy Ayre has been a poor leader.

Tampa’s third representative on the MPO, City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern, said she wanted to see the Hillsborough County Commission put a referendum on mass transit on the ballot this year.

A few members of the public commented. Kelly Cornelius said the idea of canning the MPO executive director was equivalent to the county’s attempt to dismantle the Environmental Protection Commission last year.

Sharpe ultimately relented when he realized he did not have the votes, and instead called for a workshop, which will be held later this month.

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