There's probably no better place to see the power struggle between Tampa and Hillsborough County leaders than inside House Bill 723, which awaits a hearing in the Florida Legislature's Committee on Urban and Local Affairs.
The bill, offered by state Rep. Kevin Ambler, a Republican attorney from Lutz, is an outgrowth of two recent battles: the dispute over wetland regulations and regulators from the county's Environmental Protection Commission, and the ongoing tugs-of-war at the Tampa Sports Authority.
HB 723 would tip the balance at the Sports Authority toward the county (the city currently has one more appointment than county leaders do; Ambler's bill would reverse that) in exchange for broadening membership on the currently county commissioner-only EPC.
What has roiled some suburban and rural activists most is that Ambler's legislation messes with a third government body: The Planning Commission, which reviews changes to the county's growth plan and has been a moderating force on suburban sprawl. Long a target of county commissioners unhappy with its autonomy (and budget), the new Planning Commission board would add an extra county commission appointee.
"Many concerned citizens, myself included, feel that our Planning Commission serves us well as is and do not want to see a shift in power giving the county the edge with more representation, which is what this bill is proposing," wrote activist and guest blogger Kelly Cornelius on fixitnowtampabay.com. County commissioners have proven more growth-friendly than their city counterparts often would like to see.
Opponents of the bill are urging people to write to their legislators to express opposition to the Planning Commission alteration.