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Monday, May 21, 2018
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A justified honor for Jan Platt

Some environmentalists, of all people, are opposing a proposal to rename Hillsborough County’s land conservation program after former Commissioner Jan Platt, who championed environmental causes throughout her career on the commission and Tampa City Council.

They worry the change will politicize the popular Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program.

That is a curious concern, given that the independent-minded Platt, though a Democrat, was as likely to upset fellow Democrats as Republicans. She followed her own moral compass without regard for partisan concerns or the insults of critics — often developers whose projects she opposed — who derided her as “Commissioner No.”

She was as fiercely devoted to fiscal accountability and open government as she was to environmental protections.

The public’s respect for her integrity unquestionably was critical to the adoption of the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, which won overwhelming voter support in a 1987 referendum.

In two subsequent votes, Hillsborough voters also strongly supported the program, which uses a small property tax levy (up to a quarter-mill) to buy and preserve ecologically valuable land.

From the start, the scandal-free program, which has acquired 61,000 acres, reflected the transparency and public accountability that Platt championed.

A volunteer committee devises its guiding policies. A group of citizens with environmental expertise decides which lands should be targeted for acquisition. Another panel of business and real estate experts decides what the county should pay.

A lot of people — staffers, volunteers and elected officials — have been involved in the success of ELAPP. But it probably would not exist were it not for Jan Platt — and the public confidence she commanded.

Commissioners, scheduled to consider the proposal today, should see renaming ELAPP is not a matter of playing politics but giving credit where it is due.

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