A committee charged with reducing regulations faced by Hillsborough County businesses sparked debate at a meeting Thursday as community activists pushed to have the group dissolved while tea party members defended its mission.
County commissioners took no steps toward disbanding the Economic Prosperity Stakeholders Committee, a group regarded with suspicion by some environmentalists because 16 of the 19 members, all appointed by commissioners, are builders, developers or land-use lawyers.
The group's image took a beating as the chair and co-chair conceded the committee work had suffered from a lack of focus that affected its productivity.
"We were spinning our wheels and going nowhere," said Commissioner Les Miller, the group's co-chairman. Changes were made, however, and Miller pronounced the committee ready to carry on.
"A plane that was sinking and getting ready to crash all of a sudden pulled its wings up and tried to fly in the right direction," Miller said.
The prosperity committee's chair, Commissioner Sandy Murman, defended the group's work but conceded its discussions had often gone off track.
"We kind of just threw everything up against the wall and didn't really know what to do with the wall," Murman said.
The committee's work came to commissioners' attention when one of its members, lawyer Pamela Jo Hatley, wrote a letter recommending the committee be dissolved. Hatley said the committee was not driving its own work schedule, and described how the group was broken into two subcommittees, each with a chairperson.
The full committee had not asked that the subcommittees be formed, much less name chairmen for them.
The subcommittees never met and were scrapped.
"It seems like things took off and the committee isn't driving it," Hatley said before Thursday's county commission meeting.
Hatley also said the committee does not reflect the diversity of the county at large. For example, she said some committee members have criticized the community planning process, in which residents can help draw up future plans for their neighborhoods. However, no one who has ever participated in a community plan is on the committee, Hatley said.
Others defended the committee, including tea party member Kenneth Roberts of Apollo Beach. Roberts said the prosperity committee members included "professionals who are uniquely qualified to do this work.
"The facts are that significant opportunities exist for the EPSC to act in ways to make a difference … Getting this economy moving, getting unemployment down from 8 percent will improve the quality of life around here greatly for all," Roberts said.
The committee was charged with examining the county land development code and the comprehensive land use plan to eliminate redundancies and streamline regulations so development could happen more quickly.
The committee soon expanded its scope and discussed regulations by outside agencies, drawing complaints from environmentalists that the group was attacking the county's Environmental Protection Commission, which enforces wetlands rules and has irritated some developers.
Murman assured commissioners the committee had discarded the idea of examining regulations by outside agencies.
After the meeting, Hatley said she was satisfied because it had focused a needed light on the committee's activities.
"It shut down this attempt to look at outside agencies," she said. "Outside agencies was really a misnomer. What they were really going after was the EPC."