TAMPA — Former Hillsborough County Commissioner James D. “Big Jim” Selvey, the first Republican elected to the commission in the modern era, died Sunday.
Selvey, 77, who was active in the real estate business until he died, was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital on Saturday with chest pains, said James D. “Jimmy” Selvey, the former commissioner’s son. He was transferred to Tampa General Hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with late-stage, acute myeloid leukemia.
Jimmy Selvey said he and his family had no idea how sick his father was. The elder Selvey had been on a Boy Scout outing with his grandson last week, but returned Wednesday with a rash. Jimmy Selvey said his father told him Friday he didn’t feel well, but attributed it to “getting old.”
“I was just talking to my dad on Friday, hanging out with him. Now he’s gone,” he said.
Selvey was elected to the commission in 1985. He served two terms and was elected chairman by fellow board members in 1989.
“He was always a gentleman,” said Jan Platt, who served on the commission with Selvey. “Even though we might disagree, he disagreed in a gentlemanly manner. He was a good guy.”
Selvey was part of the first commission elected after voters approved Hillsborough’s charter form of government. The charter spelled out commissioners’ roles as policymakers and prohibited them from interfering in day-to-day government operations.
The charter also expanded the board from five to seven members. Elected along with Selvey, the first Republican commissioner since Reconstruction, was the first black board member, Rubin Padgett.
In 1989, the Florida Commission on Ethics investigated Selvey based on several complaints that he had done favors for the prominent Leisey family, which owned farm land and mining pits in south county. C.E. Leisey Jr. had loaned Selvey $388,000 over three years in the mid-1980s so that Selvey could start a packing-house business. But Selvey did not report the loans on financial disclosure documents.
The ethics investigation showed Selvey voted eight times on matters affecting his benefactor, but only two of the votes may have benefitted Leisey, the commission said.
The ethics commission found that Selvey had not misused his position for personal gain and that he did not have a conflicting contractual relationship with an entity doing business with the county.
The commission did find probable cause that Selvey had not properly disclosed the loans from Leisey. Selvey entered into a settlement with the ethics commission prosecutor, agreeing to refile his financial disclosure documents and pay restitution of $388 to cover the commission’s investigation.
Selvey also made headlines during his commission tenure by lobbying — publicly and privately — for a southern extension of the Selmon Expressway, then known as the Crosstown Expressway. The proposed route would have dipped south of Brandon to the Alafia River, then run east on Boyette Road before turning north to link up with State Road 60. The extension was never built.
Selvey graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in industrial management. He worked as a real estate agent for 39 years and owned his own brokerage for eight years. He had been working at Home Xpress real estate since January 2012. He was past president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors.
Selvey was involved with the Boy Scouts for 40 years, Jimmy Selvey said. He enjoyed hunting and fishing, according to the biography on his Realtor website.
“He was a big, compassionate, caring man,” said Jimmy Selvey. “In the political arena, he tried to look out for the concerns of all the people. He was a great man and a great friend.”
In addition to his son, Jimmy, Selvey is survived by his wife, Cheryl, and daughter, Jessica. Stowers Funeral Home in Brandon will be in charge of arrangements.