County removes Ralph Hughes name from Moral Courage Award

07/15/09 Mitch E. Perry
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The Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously to remove the name of Ralph Hughes from its Moral Courage Award.

Last year, under strong opposition, the Hillsborough County Commission renamed their award in honor of Hughes, the controversial developer known for bankrolling Republican candidates over the years, who died a year ago.

But Commissioner Rose Ferlita today said that the Award, originally offered back in 1991 to honor those who stand up to the government for the community good, said it should not have been renamed for any one person.

In May, the Internal Revenue Service has filed a claim against Hughes and his business, claiming that they owed over $69 million dollars in back taxes. His family has disputed the claim.

Nevertheless, any drama about Ferlita’s proposal evaporated after Hughes son asked that the Board remove Ralph Hughes name from the award.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that in an e-mail sent to Jim Norman on Tuesday, Sean Hughes wrote, “In our view, instead of the honor and respect intended, naming the award after him has resulted in people who neither knew my father well nor had any idea of what he did for his community disparaging his name and making statements that are untrue and hurtful."

Commissioner Mark Sharpe voted against the name change last year, and seconded Ferlita’s motion.

But Commissioner Jim Norman, a close ally of Hughes, told his fellow Board members that he respectfully disagreed with their assessments. Norman said that the nature of the award was about going up against the establishment, and so by nature the award recipient will be controversial.

Critics of the Board’s vote last year to change the name of the Moral Courage Award in Ralph Hughes' behalf spoke out angrily last year.

Eileen Hart, the winner of the 1996 award, traveled to the next County Commission meeting to return her trophy.

But to Commissioner Jim Norman, Ralph Hughes was a conservative icon, and his family did not need to deal with the criticism that the Board’s decision was wrong last year.

The Board voted unanimously 7-0 to remove Hughes name from the award.

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