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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Time to show some love for Hillsborough’s tax man

Who would have believed it?

I mean, c’mon, the county commission auditorium was packed. And not just with the regular assortment of characters and political hacks who line up to complain about aliens and conspiracies in front of the board every week.

No, sir, this was the “A’’ list of characters, including the chief judge, the police chief and a gaggle of city and county muckety-mucks.

E.J. Salcines was there. The Levy twins, George and Leonard, were there. John Germany, as in the John Germany Library, was there, and the list goes on.

And they were all gathered — and this is the part that is so difficult to believe — to whoop it up for Doug Belden, the tax collector!

The tax collector! He is the guy you see in the movies or the funnies with a hood over his head and carrying an ax while looming over some poor peasant who has no money left.

Well that’s not Belden. He hasn’t worn a hood or carried an ax down to the office in years.

But he has just won the Ellsworth G. Simmons Good Government Award.

I suppose the thing is, we elect people to do a job and that should be it. Unfortunately, when you’re talking government, it has too often come to fit the old cliche, “Well, that’s OK for government work,’’ meaning mediocrity is about the best anyone can expect.

It’s not like Belden brought rocket science to the tax collector’s office. But he did bring increased efficiency. Anyone who has been around long enough to remember the days when you had to get into one line to get into another, can appreciate the changes that have made the office more customer-oriented.

I don’t want to get carried away; going down to the tax collector’s office isn’t on my bucket list of things I have to do very often, but Doug Belden has made a difference, and we are the better for it.

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A knot of maybe 30 veterans and a similar-sized knot of media crowded into American Legion Post 139 across the street from Britton Plaza on Friday afternoon to catch an appearance by Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor, in response to a growing call, much of it led by Howard Altman’s stories in The Tampa Tribune, wants to find out what is going on in the Veterans Administration’s hospitals. Altman’s stories have detailed how veterans died while waiting to have diagnostic tests in VA hospitals.

Scott showed up with U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, of Florida’s First District. Miller heads the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Also on hand was Florida’s newest congressman, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-St. Petersburg, fresh off his special election win. Jolly is on the veterans committee and looked comfortable in his new role. He said, in response to the governor’s announcement that a field hearing on what’s happening in the VA will likely be in Florida, that those things usually happen when the House is out of session. He will be advocating for it to happen here.

It was good to see the governor fired up about the lack of transparency in the massive federal program and willing to take on this thing. I hope it doesn’t sink to political name calling because something of substance could help ensure a better health care process within the VA system.

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