Joe Henderson: Changing Hillsborough Commission makeup worth a look


You could say Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman was thinking outside the box when she proposed a major change Wednesday to how that governing body is chosen.

On the other hand, you could say it was all about the box — the ballot box, that is.

You probably would be correct on both points. It also doesn’t mean she was wrong to argue that the Commission should eliminate countywide seats in favor of single-member districts.

It also is a fact, though, that commissioners have used countywide seats as a way to stay in power.

Doesn’t that trump everything?


Hang with me for just a bit.

Hillsborough’s charter, approved by voters 35 years ago, provides for seven county commissioners. Four of them represent a single district; three are chosen countywide.

The rationale behind that is that voters will always have a say in the majority makeup of the board.

In 1983, when the referendum passed creating the current setup, Hillsborough’s population was a little over 700,000. Today, it is 1.4 million and expanding rapidly.

In the Tampa Bay Times story about Murman’s proposal, she made the point that the county has more people than 10 states.

I looked it up. She is correct.

There are more people here than in Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. For good measure, we’re about equal with Hawaii.

Another fun fact: Hillsborough’s population has jumped by about 200,000 since 2010. To put that in perspective, basically, the population of Richmond, Va. moved into Hillsborough County.

By the year 2030, only 12 years from now, that number is predicted to increase by another 300,000 — roughly the population of Cincinnati. If that happens, I hope they’re thoughtful enough to bring more Skyline Chili outlets here, but I digress.

Murman argues that changing the commission makeup to single-member districts — and maybe expanding the board by two members — makes sense because Hillsborough is too large for anyone to effectively represent everyone in the county.

That point is worthy of discussion.

But critics were quick to pounce on Murman, and they had a point too. After all, she plans to run for a countywide seat this fall even though voters in District 1 elected her in 2016 to a four-year term.

With a big, blue Democratic wave forecast for November, Murman, a Republican, might face a tough battle in a hotly contested countywide race.

If her idea passes, though, she could suddenly have a change of heart and stay in District 1 until 2020. There’s a good chance new boundary lines would leave her in good shape to win another election.

Such intrigue.

Let’s be honest, though. Commissioners have been using these countywide seats to bob and weave around term limits. We’re seeing that play out again this fall.

Commissioner Victor Crist can’t run again in his single-member district because he has served the maximum of two consecutive terms. Ah, but he can run countywide and start the clock over.

That’s what he is doing.

Ken  Hagan, who has served two countywide terms, is running for Crist’s District 2 seat.

Crist is running for Hagan’s countywide chair.

See how this works?

Yes, voters have the final say whether that tactic is successful, but generally, incumbents and familiar names have a great advantage in these situations.

I doubt Murman’s gambit will be approved, if the initial reaction from the board means anything. It was tepid, to say the least.

Since five of the seven members would have to approve putting the idea on the ballot, and then voters would have to decide, getting enough support is a long-shot.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

Just look at the mishmash way the Commission has handled the county’s already-explosive growth. Then imagine what we’ll look like when Cincinnati moves to town little more than a decade from now.

Traffic will be worse than we can imagine. Sprawl, already a major problem, could reach nightmare proportions.

Having a more-nimble Commission that represents smaller parts of the county isn’t the worst way to think about dealing with this.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Jerry Lane

    April 6, 2018 at 8:35 am

    The actual truth is Hagan has been on the commission for 16 years, 8 years countywide and 8 years in District 2. Hagan is violating the spirit of term limits in the county charter exploiting a loophole to jump back to a District 2 seat where he was first elected in 2002. Hagan is doing something no other commissioner has done in the 30 plus years of the county charter. Hagan is only running to continue pursuing a billion dollar baseball stadium. Henderson significantly left out the truth about how long Hagan has already served and that he’s jumping back to a seat he already held. He should update with the full story not just half of it.

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    April 6, 2018 at 9:21 am

    Spot on, Jerry Lane. Reporting and commentary used include all of the facts, not just the ones that support the writer’s position. Both Murman and Hagan need to be retired by the voters.

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    April 6, 2018 at 9:23 am

    And the last thing we need is two more commissioners to fund…offices, staff, etc, etc.

  • Tim Curtis

    April 6, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    Joey conveniently leaves out some very important facts – he bemoans that the fact “Hillsborough is too large for anyone to effectively represent everyone in the county.” Joey likes his access to his liberal friends – Hagan, Crist Merman, Kemp and Miller and so I doubt his concern over the lack of representation. More to the point, since Joey wants to give us the history of representation, there was a time in our history when a congressional representative spoke on behalf of about 100,000 citizens – that number now greatly exceeds half-million. Are we expanding the number of congressional reps? Hell no and neither should we. Right now every registered, voting county resident gets to vote on a “majority” of the commissioners. Thereby muting the power of one geographic area or district over another. It is intended to ensure that the majority of commissioners do that which is best for the majority of county – at least in theory. Our problem with the commission as it exists is that with the exception of 2 of them, White and Kemp, the rest are career corrupt crony politicos. They don’t don’t care whit about you or me or anyone but themselves. Hagan, Crist and Merman are the very worst examples of public servants. And in particular, Ken Hagan is an intellectual midget and a moral coward. The other two are just turds.

Comments are closed.


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