Should we change the mix of the EPC board?
Our County Commission also serves as our Environmental Protection Commission (EPC)—a system that has come into question recently since most of our commissioners are not inclined toward Environmental Protection. City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern is proposing we reform the EPC, giving seats to all three cities as well as the county.
Let’s don’t forget: not only did our BOCC/EPC recently vote 4-3 to eliminate our local wetlands protections, only to have to back down in the face of massive public outrage; but before that, last spring they refused (in a 5-2 vote) to oppose state legislation that would have eliminated our local wetlands protections. That legislation fizzled after Governor Crist promised to veto it. Notably, the Tampa City Council voted unanimously to do exactly what the County Commission refused to do: write a letter defending the EPC against the proposed legislation that would have eliminated local wetlands protections across the state. Both Tampa & Temple Terrace unanimously opposed the county’s effort to eliminate the EPC wetlands division.
Mulhern’s proposal would change the EPC board’s composition from the seven county commissioners to: 5 of the seven commissioners, 2 Tampa City Council members, 1 Temple Terrace council member and 1 Plant City council member. The Tampa City Council and the Temple Terrace City Council have both voted unanimously to ask the state legislature to give them these EPC seats.
Oddly, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio doesn’t want Tampa to have seats at that table:
“I don’t believe the composition of the EPC board needs changing,” Iorio said. “I understand the concern over the wetland issue, but you don’t change the composition of a board because you disagree with the board on an issue,” she said. “Voters will decide who sits on the EPC board at election time.”
Odder still, the county commissioners seem willing to share the power of the EPC with the cities. Of course, there’s a catch: commissioners say ALL local boards should be changed to reflect the greater population of the unincorporated county compared to the cities. Hillsborough commissioners had lobbied the state last year to change the balance of power on the Tampa Sports Authority and the Planning Commission to give the county greater power. That proposal failed to launch last year because of widespread concern that giving greater weight to the county would give special interests greater leverage on those boards.
There is an important distinction between the two proposals: the city councilwoman wants to give cities representation on a board where they now have none, while the commissioners want to overpower boards where they already enjoy representation.
Last Wednesday, the county commission voted unanimously to request legislation that would change ALL local boards to base the representation on population. That would include the EPC and the Planning Commission. You can read their brief discussion, and hear WMNF’s interviews of Mary Mulhern and several commissioners after the vote.
Recently, Tommy made a similar point to Mayor Pam’s with regard to two other proposals to change two other systems, saying the real solution is to elect good leaders. Boy, do we ever need to elect good leaders! Still, I think that in the case of the EPC, recent events illuminate a basic flaw in this system. With only one board in charge, it is easier for special interests to exert undue influence. I have seen good and bad county commissions and city councils, but rarely are they all bad in the same way, at the same time. Adding political diversity to this board would make it much less likely that all the representatives could be manipulated by the same forces at the same time, affecting the natural resources that belong to the county and its cities.
I intend to ask our legislative delegation to broaden the representation on our EPC, but leave the other boards alone. I encourage you to let your legislators know what you think, too.