Members of a recent Hillsborough Backstage Pass Program class toured the water treatment plant and are pictured here with George Cassady, Director of Public Utilities.

Every two weeks, 25 residents from around Hillsborough County have the opportunity to spend half a day experiencing local government firsthand. These residents are members of the county’s Backstage Pass Program, part of the Neighborhood Relations Department, and applications are currently being accepted for the next six-month session.

“It is such a wonderful program,” said Stephanie Agliano, the Neighborhood Liaison who has been running the program since 2017.

According to Agliano, Backstage Pass is designed to provide community leaders with an insider’s look at the workings of county government. With topics including Social Services, Transportation, Emergency Management, Parks and Recreation, the Medical Examiner and Fire Rescue, members learn through interactive presentations, demonstrations, conversations with department leaders and tours of facilities, including a water treatment plant and the Emergency Operations Center.
“What we really hope to accomplish is to make our community stronger and better through education,” she said.

Any resident over the age of 21 living or working full-time in Hillsborough County is eligible to apply to the program. Members must commit to attending at least nine of the 12 half-day sessions and must sign-up for an orientation class to learn about the program requirements.

“The leaders who go through this program leave with a new appreciation of what county employees do,” said Agliano. “We hope that they leave more informed community leaders who go on to share their knowledge with neighbors, communities, friends and families.”

The program is free for those accepted and all course materials are included.

According to Agliano, one of the highlights of the program comes during one of the final sessions where members get a chance to put a lot of the information they have learned to good us.

“During one of the later sessions, the group is given the opportunity to make a budget for the county using real figures,” she said. “That really gives them an appreciation for where the money goes and how hard it can be to run a county of this size.”

When the program is complete, members participate in a graduation ceremony and are then invited to join the group’s alumni program, which allows them an even greater opportunity to make an impact on the community and network with other leaders.

To apply for the Hillsborough Backstage Pass Program, visit or call the office of Neighborhood Relations at 272-5860.

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Assignment Editor Kate Quesada started working at the Osprey Observer in 2004 after graduating from the University of South Florida with a masters degree in Mass Communications. Since then, she has held various positions at the paper and has been working as the assignment editor since January 2020. She lives in Lithia with her husband Mike and sons Dylan and Max and stays active in the community on school PTA boards and volunteering with local organizations.