have before Tuesday,” County Commissioner Ken Welch said. “This is new information to me. It doesn’t help. It’s definitely a concern. This puts the legislative delegation in a bad position.”
Added Commissioner Pat Gerard: “This thing keeps going around and around. I didn’t know.”
White did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. She was appointed county attorney in July after serving as the deputy of former county attorney Jim Bennett, who retired after three decades of public service.
A series of Tampa Bay Times reports earlier this year showed how the agency was mismanaged, failed to follow its own rules and angered both consumers and contractors with how it doled out discipline. Bennett has been criticized for the legal advice his office gave the agency.
Then on Sept. 20, two reports were issued regarding the board. One was the county’s inspector general report that outlined 93 issues with the licensing board. The other was a grand jury report suggesting ways to reform the agency.
Despite the legal confusion, Pinellas lawmakers still submitted three proposals for reforming the agency. To meet the public-notice requirements for the Nov. 1 meeting of the county legislative delegation, those bills had to be submitted by Friday to be introduced in the 2018 session. The Legislature created the independent licensing board in 1973, so only it can reform the board.
One bill from state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, gives county commissioners control of appointing board members (no one more recommendations from contractors’ groups) and would allow the agency to be dissolved by voters in a countywide referendum. The County Commission could also remove board members at any time.
Brandes favored dissolving the board and giving its duties to the county. But he adjusted his bill given the legal advice from White and a Florida House attorney. Brandes said he could still amend his bill later to take stronger measures.
Another bill from Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, would not abolish the agency, either. Instead it would model the licensing board on a similar regulating agency in Palm Beach County. There, board members discipline contractors but the county sets the budget and runs the staff. Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, submitted a similar proposal. Rouson said his bill would nullify any potential charter issues because it amends the 1973 law, instead of getting rid of it.