Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hillsborough Commissioners may direct tourist tax money to promote region during RNC

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 9:14 AM

Democratic Commissioner Les Miller joked that he has never attended an RNC, and doesn't intend to next year
  • Democratic Commissioner Les Miller joked that he has never attended an RNC, and doesn't intend to next year
The Hillsborough County Commission voted 7-0 on Wednesday to support Chairman Ken Hagan's motion to look into the use of tourist development tax funds to promote Tampa and Hillsborough County when the Republican National Convention rolls around next summer. Those funds derive from the tax collected by the county on visitors' hotel and motel bills.

The unanimous vote included the two Democrats on the board, Kevin Beckner and Les Miller, though Beckner was emphatic that adequate transparency measures be put in place to insure that those monies weren't spent in a way that could come back to haunt the BOCC.

Miller, who has never attended an RNC and doesn't intend to next year, said that he wanted to make sure that minority businesses get a piece of the action in promoting the region. Miller said the lack of minority involvement was a problem at Tampa/Hillsborough's last major event, the 2009 Super Bowl game.

Hagan said there was precedence for using such Tourist Development Council funds, saying the Board of County Commissioners authorized doing so back in 2006 when Tampa vied to acquire both the 2009 Super Bowl and the 2008 Republican National Convention (the Super Bowl came, that convention did not).

Commissioner Beckner said even though he is a Democrat, he was completely on board in supporting the event and making sure that it would become a huge boost to the community. But he questioned the county's chief financial officer, Bonnie Wise, to investigate the appropriate use of those tax dollars.

Wise explained how some of those tourist funds are already allocated (such as being distributed to various nonprofit groups, as well as paying down the debt service to Raymond James Stadium, Steinbrenner Field and the St. Pete Times Forum). "We have to see what commitments have been made with the TDC and the board," she said.

Beckner pressed Wise further, saying that if the board ultimately approved taking some of those funds, he wanted to make certain there would be no "commingling" with privately raised dollars, and said the Clerk of Hillsborough County should oversee the spending of those funds. He affirmed his support of the convention coming to town, but wanted to make sure that "the public has confidence this is not going to be spent on any inappropriate events or promotions or anything that would also promote political partisanship."

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said simply that the Hillsborough County community was a diverse one, and "Let's make certain that the way the money is spent reflects it."

Commissioner Les Miller went further, saying that there weren't that many African-American or minority Republicans, so it was important that they get consideration. He then committed a faux-pas, saying, "We want to make sure that if we do this, they all, whether they're African-Americans, Hispanic, Indian, Oriental, whatever the case may be, if there are dollars that are going to be spent, we utilize those companies or businesses to go forth with these promotions and advertisements."

A few minutes after he made that comment, Miller asked to make a statement, in which he apologized for using the term "Orientals," saying he didn't mean to offend anyone in the Asian community in Hillsborough County.

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