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HART, Hillsborough County say Stacy White has no right to challenge transportation tax

Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority both filed defenses to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the one-percent transportation tax voters approved in November. 

Both entities argue, among other defenses, that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White does not have legal standing to file the suit.

White is seeking to overturn the voter-approved county charter that took effect this month raising the sales tax to fund sweeping transportation and transit improvements.

“The Plaintiff cannot bring this action in his official capacity as a County Commissioner because the County Commission has taken no action approving same and there is no authority for him to do so otherwise,” HART’s defense asserts.

That’s based on Florida State Statute 125.15 that states “the county commissioners shall sue and be sued in the name of the county of which they are commissioners” and, as the response claims, cannot do so as a single member.

“A vote of the BOCC would have been required to direct the Hillsborough County Attorney to proceed forward with any litigation on behalf of the Hillsborough County” the defense reads.

Hillsborough County’s defense is similar, but adds White also cannot sue the county or other transportation tax-receiving entities as an individual resident of Hillsborough County because “private citizens cannot sue to enforce rights held by the Board of County Commissioners.”

The county charter created by the voter-approved referendum calls for implementation through an interlocal agreement with the other funding entities. That agreement has not yet been established but is scheduled for discussion later this month.

“Accordingly, Plaintiff, acting as a lone county commissioner, has not and cannot show that the BOCC (or any other Defendant) has failed or will fail to comply with the requirements …”

Until that happens, the HART claims there is no basis to challenge the new charter.

HART’s defense also asserts that White is seeking improper legal advice by looking for answers from the court rather than from the Hillsborough County Attorney.

The two defenses were filed last month but only became public this week.

The cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, as well as several constitutional offices, are also named in the lawsuit. Those entities have yet to levy their own defenses.

All For Transportation, the citizen-led campaign that backed the transportation referendum, is not named in the suit, but a judge ruled the campaign could intervene with a separate defense on behalf of the voters who approved the referendum.

The issue passed with 57 percent of the vote.

White argues the resulting county charter is at odds with state law because it removes authority among elected officials to determine how to spend revenue. That argument is based on the required oversight committee comprised of nonelected officials charged with auditing spending plans to ensure they comply with the county charter.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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