TAMPA — It’s been three months since the Hillsborough County Commission split over seating conservative activist Terry Kemple on a newly formed diversity advisory council.
Commissioners ended up tabling the matter and the diversity council has yet to hold a meeting.
But the impasse might be cracking. On Wednesday, Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he would drop his objections to Kemple’s membership so the diversity council’s work can go forward.
“There’s work to be done,” Beckner said after Wednesday’s commission meeting. “Sometimes you have to put aside individual differences for the good of the whole.
“I’m going to put faith in the group and faith in Mr. Kemple that he has the right intentions and is willing to work with and not obstruct the group,” Beckner said.
Kemple, who was not at the Wednesday meeting, said he was surprised when a reporter told him about Beckner’s statements.
“I don’t have a grudge against Commissioner Beckner,” Kemple said. “I don’t agree with him on key issues.”
The main issue dividing the two men is homosexuality. Beckner is the first openly gay commissioner and has actively pushed issues important to gays and lesbians, including a failed attempt to pass a county domestic partner registry.
Kemple, a Christian conservative, says he doesn’t believe government should be promoting homosexuality and that Beckner does just that.
It was Kemple’s anti-gay rhetoric, voiced in an email to his supporters, that roused Beckner to block the activist from serving on the diversity council. Beckner made sure the email was fowarded to the National Diversity Council, a group the commission engaged to vet applicants for the Hillsborough council.
The national group responded to the email by removing Kemple from the approved applicants.
But at a contentious May 15 meeting, a 4-3 majority of the commission voted to put Kemple back on the approved list.
Commissioner Les Miller, who also opposed Kemple, responded by suspending deliberations on the matter, using a parliamentary maneuver called “laying the motion on the table.” Three other commissioners – Beckner, Mark Sharpe and Chairman Ken Hagan – voted along with Miller to postpone the debate indefinitely.
After that meeting, Miller said he used the maneuver because Kemple had not satisfactorily answered Miller’s questions about why he wrote the email and why he demeaned Beckner and gays in general.
Miller, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, said in a phone interview he will probably drop his opposition to Kemple joining the council.
“I’m thinking we don’t need to hold back the great work this committee could do because one person has philosophical beliefs about life that are different than mine,” Miller said. “That’s what I’m thinking and I guess that’s what Beckner’s thinking, too.”
Kemple said he doesn’t intend to be a troublemaker on the committee. He sees the council’s purpose as making sure various constituencies’ ideas about how to move the community forward are represented.
“I would not go on the diversity advisory council to be an impediment ... I would go on there to represent a position that needs representing,” he said.