Friday, November 17, 2017
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: A stickler for propriety and transparency, Jan Platt was more than ‘Commissioner No’

RECOMMENDED READING


Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt, who died a few days ago at 81, will be remembered for many things, most notably as a principled steadfast guardian of the public trust.

Still, it was one of her greatest political failures that I will always remember and respect the most. But more about that in a moment.

Over her more than 40-year public career, Platt served on both the Tampa City Council and the county commission. She was a fierce protector of the environment and was often the lonely sole voice in opposition to rampant development.

She was the force behind the creation of the county’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program that manages some 61,000 acres of sensitive land. She believed in the power of libraries and led the fight to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The list of her numerous honors and awards and her active participation in all manner of civic boards seems endless.

Perhaps a bit unfairly, Platt was often called "Commissioner No" for her frequent nay votes on development issues. But Platt wasn’t opposed to development. She simply wanted to do it the right way. What a novel approach.

She was a stickler for propriety and government transparency. And in the good-old-boy days of Hillsborough County government that could rub people the wrong way. It still does.

There’s a story. The reason the county commission was expanded to seven members is largely credited to the fact that in 1983, while Platt served on the then five-member commission, three of her colleagues — Jerry Bowmer, Fred Anderson and Joe Kotvas — were led off to the hoosegow on bribery charges, leaving the commission without a quorum to conduct business.

Platt leaves an admirable legacy behind as the role model for what a real public servant ought to be — even it involves a fool’s errand.

In 1995, Platt decided to run for mayor of Tampa against the popular and charismatic Dick Greco. There was never any doubt Greco would cruise to victory to serve a second stint as mayor.

Platt knew it, too. But she still ran simply because she didn’t think it was right for anyone to get elected mayor without some sort of opposition. It was a matter of principle. This was no vanity, symbolic campaign. Platt worked her heart out. Still it was also a forgone conclusion. Platt was crushed by Greco. But this might also have been one of the most courteous, mutually respectful political campaigns in the city’s history.

Jan Platt was something of a throwback to another era, back to a time when some politicians at least ran on their accomplishments and their goals for the future.

In today’s mailbox mudslinging brochure environment, Platt would be unfairly vilified as a dreaded tree-hugging liberal — who liked to read books, no less! How elitist.

She should be remembered as part of a cadre of women — including former Mayor Sandy Freedman, Helen Gordon Davis, Betty Castor, Fran Davin, Sylvia Kimball-Rodriquez, Phyllis Busansky and Pat Frank — who endured sexism and misogyny to pave the way for the next generation of female office holders. She persisted.

Oftentimes, newbie pols enter various elective offices without really understanding what the job actually entails. The life and career of Jan Platt offers an excellent primer on the role of a genuine public servant.

Treat people fairly. Do your homework. Realize that constituent concerns rise above lobbyist special interests. Understand pouring cement is not the same thing as progress. Appreciate the fact that libraries are just as important as stadiums, perhaps more so.

Even more vitally, at the end of the day, it matters little how many votes you won or the offices you held. What matters most is whether you were able to represent the community you loved and served with your reputation still intact.

And that is Jan Platt’s enduring legacy.

Comments

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17