By MIKE SALINERO | The Tampa Tribune
Published: October 19, 2011

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A proposal to restructure the current makeup of the Hillsborough County Commission won enough support from commissioners today to go forward for further debate.

Commissioners voted 7-0 to hold a workshop later this year on changing the current board makeup of four single-member districts and three countywide seats, by adding another single-member district and reducing the countywide seats to two.

Commissioner Les Miller, the board’s only black member, proposed the change, saying it would bring government closer to the people.

The current system was set up in 1983 and was partly a reaction to a scandal that saw three commissioners jailed for taking kickbacks.

But Miller said the county’s explosive growth since that time — from 650,000 residents counted in the 1980 census to more than 1.2 million people now — has made the single-member districts unwieldy. The four current commission districts average 307,000 people. Adding a district would reduce the average population to 247,000 people.

“We need to have smaller single member districts so people can get closer to their commissioners,” Miller said.

Adding a district would also make it more likely that one district would tilt toward a Hispanic representative, Miller said. A coalition of Hispanic groups pressed the commissioner earlier this year to increase the Hispanic population in District 1, represented by Sandy Murman, to 36 percent. Commissioners rejected the idea.

Miller was supported by two board members who served with him in the Florida Legislature: Murman and Victor Crist. Murman noted that all 40 state senators and 120 House members serve geographic districts. She said she found the commission structure, with countywide seats, “odd.”

Crist said reducing the geographic size and population of commission districts would reduce the amount of money candidates would have to raise to run a campaign.

“I just appreciate smaller government because it gives greater access to your elected officials,” Crist said, “and frankly a process where it’s easier for the everyday person to run for office and get elected.”

Other commissioners expressed concerns. Kevin Beckner, the only other Democrat on the board besides Miller, said he appreciated the current structure because it allows voters to cast ballots for a majority of the board: the voter’s district representative and three countywide commissioners.

“By changing to that system, we’re looking at diluting the voice of the majority and the representation of the majority,” Beckner said.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said a board dominated by district representatives could lead to a “Balkanization” of policy, with commissioners fighting so hard for their districts that they ignore the welfare of the county as a whole.

Commissioner Ken Hagan, who also expressed concerns, said he would second a motion to hold a workshop to discuss the matter further.

Restructuring the commission would require a referendum to amend the county charter. Managing County Attorney Mary Helen Farris said an ordinance calling for a referendum during the November 2012 election would have to be ready by May or June of next year.

By Steve Huettel, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Oct 18, 2011 01:15 PM

TAMPA — Pressured by Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Channel District businesses, Port Director Richard Wainio pledged Tuesday to develop a plan to open the cruise ships docks to the public.

Federal and state security rules require that ports close off docks whenever vessels are tied up there. Local business groups currently get Coast Guard permission to open docks behind Channelside Bay Plaza at other times for events such as New Years Eve and 4th of July fireworks displays.

“It looks like you’re in prison looking (through gates ) from Channelside at the waterfront,” said Troy Manthey CEO of Yacht StarShip, a dinner cruise that docks near the waterfront shopping and dining mall.

Buckhorn has asked Wainio for report on what it would take to extend the city’s planned Tampa Riverwalk to the cruise ship docks.

Plans call for the project to stretch 2.6 miles along the Hillsborough River from Tampa Heights, through downtown to the Beneficial Drive Bridge to Harbour Island. The report will be ready for the December meeting of the Tampa Port Authority board.

“What about all those areas along the West Coast that use their waterfront (for tourism), said Sandy Murman, who represents the Hillsborough County Commission on the board. “I wonder if we’re missing out on an opportunity.”

But unlike the wharf in San Francisco, Wainio said, Tampa is a working port. Cruise ships dock from before sunrise to late afternoon every weekend and Mondays during the busy winter season.

After a public event, bomb-sniffing dogs and divers must check the dock for explosives before the next ship comes in, said Wainio,

Contact Steve Huettel at or(813) 226-3384.

Regent may face state review
By From staff reports
Published: October 05, 2011

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners have asked the state Joint Legislative Auditing Committee to review funding and operations at The Regent, a controversial community center near Brandon.

Commission Chairman Al Higginbotham sent a letter last week to state Sen. Jim Norman, chairman of the audit committee and a former Hillsborough commissioner, asking for the review of the center. Built with county, state and federal money, The Regent was sold to government officials as a community center and hurricane shelter. After the building was finished in January, however, it was criticized because of its lavish decor and lack of accessibility for ordinary residents.

Commissioner Victor Crist, a former state senator, suggested at the Sept. 21 commission meeting that the audit committee look at the center. Crist made the suggestion after a county auditor reported that $35,000 in county money had been spent on consultants and other inappropriate uses during construction. Commissioners asked the board running The Regent to return the money.

“From the holistic perspective, we really need to have the full bird’s-eye view of what this deal is and what has really taken place,” Crist said at the meeting, “and the best way to do that is to send a formal request from this board to the state Legislature and ask that the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee look into this matter.”

Commissioner Sandy Murman is also scheduling meetings with The Regent’s board to discuss the future management of the center. Murman has suggested that Hillsborough Community College, which owns the building, also operate it.

Platt St. Bridge Closing Update

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As your Traffic and Safety representative, on behalf of the Davis Islands Civic Association board of directors, I want to keep you informed on the upcoming Platt Street bridge closure and its impact on Davis Islands. The Platt Street Bridge is closing this MONDAY, October 3rd, 2011. Yes, it will be hard to get used to, and it will be an inconvenience for over 3 months.

A public meeting took place September 27, 2011 at the Sandra Freeman Tennis Court facility with City and County representatives including Commissioner Sandy Murman and City Councilman Harry Cohen. Most comments and concerns voiced at the prior Hyde Park meeting were incorporated into the plan. The City and County agencies along with Tampa Police are working together and pledged to respond quickly to unforeseen conditions as a result of this event.

We were assured that Digital Traffic Display Boards will be installed at points ahead leading to the bridge to inform drivers. Sandy Murman will further contact the School Board to make sure that schools are aware of potential delays.  Be assured that the City and County staffs are communicating with MacDill Air Force Base and TGH to let them know of plans, detours and latest updates. We have asked that additional police officers, automatic telephone calls and possibly web cams be used to lessen the impact and speed police response during this period.

This event will not be easy for everyone, including Davis Islands, South Tampa, Harbour Island residents and TGH, but we are told every effort is being made and coordinated to minimize inconveniences and provide for safety during this event.

As we have stressed before, kindly factor time delays as you schedule your travels in and out of Davis Islands during this period. Please let your friends and neighbors know and think safety first as you travel in and out of our great neighborhood.

Being informed about this event will help lessen the inconvenience and prepare us for any eventuality. Traffic Diagrams and Maps along with more specific information can be accessed at;



Antonio J. Amadeo, AIA

DICA Traffic & Safety Chair

Platt Street to Close for 120 Days

Posted: 4:00 AM

  • By: Heather Gordon

Hillsborough County officials will hold a meeting Tuesday to discuss the upcoming closure of the Platt Street Bridge in downtown Tampa.

District 1 County Commissioner Sandra L. Murman and other city and county staff will be leading the Community Information Open House Meeting beginning at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Freedman Tennis Court Center at 59 Columbia Drive, Davis Islands.

At the Open House, citizens will be able to hear a briefing and visit information stations to find alternate commuting options and to provide comment.

The Platt Street Bridge will be closed beginning Monday, October 3, and is scheduled to remain closed for 105 days. Officials say the closure is necessary as part of the required rehabilitation of the bridge to allow the contractor to open the drawbridge and perform replacement work on its components. The full project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2012.

For more information on Alternate Routes, call the City of Tampa at (813) 274-8333.

For more information on the Platt St. Bridge Project, call Hillsborough County at (813) 635-5400.

Detailed information can be found on online at

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Port director gets two-year extension

By Steve Huettel, Times Staff Writer 

Posted: Sep 20, 2011 11:48 AM

TAMPA – Disappointing his critics, the Port Authority board voted today to extend the contract of director Richard Wainio by two years.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman first proposed a one-year extension. After her motion was rejected, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposed the two year extension, and it passed on a 4-2 vote.

Questions over Wainio’s future rose in July, when the Port of Tampa Maritime Industries Association called for the board to let Wainio go when his contract expires next March.

The group, which represents 47 companies doing business at the port, cited significant declines in cargo tonnage at the port since Wainio took over in 2006.

Operating income at the Tampa Port Authority was nearly $5 million in the black at the beginning of his tenure and was $1.1 million in the red last year, the group said. The number is misleading, port staffers insist, because it includes millions in depreciation from new construction. The authority isn’t actually losing money.

Much of the conflict is over personality.

Critics say Wainio doesn’t listen to their suggestions on port business strategy, has been disrespectful toward business leaders and creates a ”chilling effect” on public comment at board meetings.

Wainio says his critics don’t represent the views of the larger port community. In a recent e-mail, he wrote commissioners that morale at the agency is suffering from the attacks.

“My staff and I are irritated by the generally baseless, erroneous and repetitive accusations from several people who quite frankly have no particular knowledge or expertise regarding the issues,” he wrote ”

Wainio, 61, has served as the Port Authority’s chief executive since 2005. He earns $251,118 a year.

YMCA, Youth in Government on 9/11

Commissioner Murman with the Campo/Camp Cristina YMCA Youth in Government team at 9-11 ceremony at County Center, downtown Tampa.

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By Shelley Rossetter, Times Staff Writer

In Print: Friday, August 26, 2011

St. Pete Times


RUSKIN — A former fire station could become a community arts center by January, thanks to $100,000 allocated by commissioners in next year’s tentative Hillsborough County budget.

The opening of the Ruskin Firehouse Cultural Center hangs on the approval of the county’s fiscal 2012 budget, which will be voted on in September. If approved, the money would go toward improvements at the fire station on First Avenue, which was vacated by the county for a new one this year, said Sandy Council, president of the Ruskin Community Development Foundation, which is handling the project.

Construction would start as soon as the money was approved.

“A lot hinges on the final vote of the budget,” Council said. “We’re moving ahead as if that’s going to happen.”

As the first of its kind in the South Shore area, the cultural center would provide access to a wide selection of arts, Council said.

“It’s not just going to be visual art,” she said. “There will be theater, music, the whole spectrum.”

Meeting rooms would be available for rent, and the building would accommodate classes, workshops and visiting artists.

The fire station, which is owned by the county, would be leased to the foundation, which submitted a business plan and is awaiting final approval from the county, Council said.

Renovations planned for the building include bringing the facility up to code and making it handicap accessible. Council estimates that will cost at least $70,000.

In addition to the county’s money, the foundation is set to receive $60,000 from the Foundation of Greater Sun City Center once it gains possession of the center, Council said. Keller Williams and the South Shore Arts Council have donated an additional $6,000 toward the project.

It’s something the community has been seeking for a while, said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who helped secure the money for the center, which is in her district.

“Ruskin has often been overlooked,” she said. “This is going to be a good addition to south Hillsborough County.”

Though the center’s money is not part of the $2.5 million set aside by commissioners for the restoration of historical properties, the discussion that led to that fund also benefitted the center, Murman said.

Public outcry over the amount of money spent at the Regent, she said, brought attention to the need for community centers in other areas.

People in the arts community are excited, said Nina Tatlock, co-director of Big Draw Studios, an art studio in Ruskin.

“For the community, it will be a place where things can happen,” said Tatlock, who also serves on the foundation’s committee. “It’s where people from the community can come to participate in the arts, which we feel is an enrichment to the community.”

Besides drawing more attention to the arts in South Shore, supporters hope the center will create more interest in the area.

“The Ruskin area has great potential for economic development,” Murman said. “This could be the focus, the hub of where it starts.”

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at or (813) 661-2442.

Published: August 24, 2011
Updated: August 24, 2011 – 5:08 PM


Tampa — Hillsborough County’s after-school program may get a reprieve.

Commissioners agreed unanimously this afternoon to have county officials draw up a plan that would add 19 parks that would provide recreational programs after school – more than the 11 regional centers commissioners had approved for their 2012 budget after agreeing to discontinue full-time staffing at 31 recreation centers.

County officials will come back to the commission on Sept. 8 with standards to determine the success of the program – including having a minimum of 25 children per site — and how they will communicate to parents that the program, which they were told was being discontinued, is back on.

Under the plan, commissioners would receive a 6-month report on how the program is performing and would re-evaluate the program after the end of the school year, in time to inform parents so they can make plans before the start of the next school year.

The maximum cost for attending the program would be reduced from $48 to $38 with a $20 fee for children who meet income guidelines for free or reduced cost school lunches. Commissioner Ken Hagan, who proposed continuing the after-school program at 30 recreation centers, said lowering the fee will attract more participants.

County administrators and parks director Mark Thornton have argued the current program is too expensive at $7.5 million, and declining enrollment has exacerbated the problem. Participation has shrunk to about 1,900 kids from 5,600 enrollees in 2008. The slide started after commissioners approved a sliding fee scale for what had been a free program.

Hagan argued that if the county can increase numbers, the program will be self-sufficient.

But commissioners Kevin Beckner, Sandy Murman and chairman Al Higginbotham wanted some benchmarks to determine whether the plug should be pulled on the program.

Posted: Aug 17 10:22 PM

TAMPA – Hillsborough County moved one step closer to banning sweepstakes games at internet cafes.

On Wednesday, commissioners voted 7-0 to draft an ordinance that would ban the sweepstakes games. The ordinance would still have to go through a public hearing and commissioners would have to vote on it.

Commissioner Sandy Murman made the motion. She believes it should be illegal for patrons to purchase time on a computer, where they play sweepstakes games for prizes.

She considers it illegal gambling. On Wednesday, lawyers from the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office agreed with Murman’s legal assessment, but added the state law on the topic was too ambiguous, making it difficult to enforce.

They recommended the county make its own decision about what to do about the sweepstakes cafes.

After a long, heated debate — during which some commissioners suggested a task force to look into the matter — the commissioners ultimately backed Murman’s proposal.

The ordinance to be drafted would not ban internet cafes, just the use of sweepstakes-style games on the machines at the cafes.

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