By Tamas Mondovics
The 2015 Hillsborough County Charter Review Board (CRB) was poised to take public comment and to discuss a proposal to change the current electoral structure of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) during its meeting held earlier this month.
While the meeting held at the County Center’s second-floor County Commission Boardroom had the potential to reach a decision, the board felt it was best to postpone final vote on the matter until its next meeting scheduled in July.
The ongoing discussion’s focus is on a proposal to change the current structure of the BOCC of four single member and three countywide districts, to one of three alternatives: 5-2: five single member and two countywide; 5-4: five single member and four countywide for a total of nine members; or an all single member districts.
With Art Wood as its current chairman, the CRB is made up of 14 volunteers appointed by the BOCC every five years consisting of 10 Republicans and four Democrats, who reportedly seem inclined to keep the configuration the same.
Each commissioner appoints two members from his or her district as the board is charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the County Charter and recommending any changes.
Any proposed amendments by the Charter Review Board must be approved by two-thirds of the Charter Review Board members, and then voted upon in a public referendum.
Promoters of the change say that with population growth and the fact that it has been more than three decades since the board’s current configuration went into affect, it is time for a change.
By the numbers, with the county’s population reaching nearly 1.3 million, each single-member district represents roughly 300,000 voters.
While the 5-4 plan seemed to get some traction, the proposed 5-2 idea, which would keep the current total number of commissioners at seven but add an additional single-member district and remove an at-large district, is unlikely to get another hearing.
Opposition, however, to amending the Hillsborough County charter to change the number of single member county commissioner districts from four to five came speedily by District 4 Commissioner Stacy White in a letter to the CRB.
White said his rationale on opposing the change is simple, when he said, “I believe strongly in citizens being empowered when it comes to having a voice in government.”
White added, ”As it stands right now, each citizen is represented by a single member district commissioner and three countywide at-large commissioners, which gives every voter in Hillsborough County the opportunity to vote for a majority of the commissioners. That gives each citizen the ability to provide feedback to four commissioners that will be accountable to that citizen at the ballot box. Likewise, that gives each county commissioner the opportunity for appeal to three other commissioners that are accountable to a particular community during deliberations at board meetings.”
As for the 5-2 plan, White wrote that increasing the number of single member districts to five would decrease the number countywide at-large seats to two, which he said would mean that no citizen of Hillsborough County would have the ability to vote for a majority of the board.
“I fear that this would create the potential for the concerns of citizens and communities to be marginalized,” White said.
White said that the 5-2 proposed change would create a more diverse county commission, adding, “But the entire county has become diverse in its own right. Hillsborough County truly is a microcosm of the United States.”
More information about the CRB and a list of current members can be found at www.HIllsboroughCounty.org/Charter or by contacting 276-2640 or WagnerB@HillsboroughCounty.org.