Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

March column: Kevin Beckner leaves politics, named Hillsborough civil service chief

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The Hillsborough County Civil Service Board has selected former county Commissioner Kevin Beckner as its new director.

Beckner, a Democrat, has said if he got the job, he'd stay out of elective politics for the indefinite future.

Interim director Kurt Wilkening said the seven-member board, with one vacancy, considered the top two candidates to be Beckner and Alma Gonzalez, currently the board's employee relations manager, and voted 4-2 for Beckner in a meeting Wednesday night.

Gonzalez is also a high-level Democratic Party activist.

Wilkening said Beckner's salary will be negotiated within the range of $115,000 to $140,000. Beckner couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Term-limited in his countywide commissioner's seat last year, Beckner challenged Clerk of Court Pat Frank in the primary but lost in a bitter race that created enmity among Democrats. He had previously been considered a rising local star in the party.

Beckner and Gonzalez were among four finalists to replace Director Dane Petersen, who is retiring after 30 years with the agency.

Beckner's resume listed no experience in employment law or human resources organizations, but he said his eight years as commissioner and his experience in running small businesses gave him that experience.

The Civil Service Board, among other things, hears appeals of disciplinary actions by employees of county agencies. The board is appointed by the governor.

GOP legislators reticent on Artiles

Most local Republican legislators were reluctant to answer this week when asked whether state Sen. Frank Artiles should resign his seat. The one exception was Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa, who called for Artiles' resignation.

Democrats all said Artiles should go, some by voting for the legislative Black Caucus statement saying he should.

Artiles has been caught up in a scandal over his use of profanity and a racial slur to a black female senator.

The Tampa Bay Times asked the 13 legislators representing all or part of Hillsborough County whether Artiles should go.

State Senate President Joe Negron provided the senators a reason for not answering: Negron has urged them not to take a position until an investigation by the Senate counsel is over.

Republican Sens. Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa and Dana Young of Tampa all cited Negron's memo in declining to answer, though they criticized Artiles.

Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg didn't respond. Rouson had previously made comments to Politico that in some ways defended Artiles but is a member of the legislative Black Caucus, which voted unanimously for a statement saying Artiles should quit.

Galvano and Lee are members of the Senate Rules Committee, which will hear the investigative report and make a recommendation to the full Senate.

In the House, Democratic minority leader Janet Cruz of Tampa said Artiles' comments "should not be tolerated by a civil society," and he should "resign immediately."

Democratic Reps. Wengay Newton of St. Petersburg and Sean Shaw of Tampa didn't respond, but are also members of the Black Caucus.

GOP Reps. Jake Raburn of Lithia, Ross Spano of Dover and Jackie Toledo of Tampa all failed to respond to the inquiry. Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa said only that Artiles should "pray about it, focus on his wife and kids, and his district." Rep. Dan Raulerson of Plant City said Artiles' constituents should decide.

Harrison said via text message that Artiles "should voluntarily resign. If he refuses then he should be censured by the Senate. … In 2018 he will answer to the voters for his inexcusable behavior."

Harrison, who holds a North Tampa swing district considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge, received substantial black support in holding his seat against a challenge by Democrat Lisa Montelione last year.

Martin Garcia vs. Tampa International

Martin Garcia, a former Hillsborough Aviation Authority board member and prominent Republican campaign donor, made news this week when state Sen. Tom Lee cited information from Garcia in calling for an audit of the gigantic Tampa International Airport expansion.

It's not the first conflict between Garcia and the airport, which he helped run as a board member before abruptly resigning in 2014.

For more than a decade, Garcia has been one of Tampa International's most frequent noise critics.

According to airport records, Garcia registered 1,088 noise complaints with Tampa International since 2008.

Garcia, who didn't respond to calls about the airport, lives in a waterfront home in exclusive Beach Park that happens to be two miles south of the end of the Tampa International main runways.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

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