Friday, March 31, 2006


It may not necessairly be right, but it's legal according to one county attorney's opinion.

The Tampa Tribune reports this morning that Hillsborough County Attorney Renee Lee wrote in a four page memo to county commissioners released Thursday that a 1991 Florida Supreme Court decision "clearly established" that counties can use public money and staff "to educate and advocate a position" on such issues. You can read the decision for yourself clicking here.

The memo in question supports a county commission decision to have County Administrator Pat Bean and staff members speak to groups about two issues most of the commission opposes: Electing a county mayor and allowing Ruskin to incorporate.

Supporters of the proposals are crying foul, saying that political activity by staff members is prohibited under Hillsborough County's charter, and that the 1991 Supreme Court decision noted in Ms. Lee's memo did not consider differences in the charters of Hillsborough and Leon counties.

Section 5.04 of the Hillsborough County Charter reads: The county administrator shall not hold any political office nor take part in any political activity other than voting.

Section 9.04 of the Hillsborough County Charter: Political activities of officers and employees of the county government shall be governed and controlled by general law except as provided herein and except that the county administrator's assistants and division and office heads, the county internal performance auditor, the county internal performance auditor's assistants, and the county attorney and his assistants, shall not hold any political office nor take part in any political activity relating to county commission elections, other than voting.

That last sentence, notably the highlighted bit, could be a stumbling block for those in opposition. It should be an interesting debate, but the electorate will make the final decision through their petition signatures and their votes.


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