TAMPA Maybe the decades-old feud between Tampa and Hillsborough County really is over.
Today, county commissioners gave the Ellsworth G. Simmons Good Government Award to former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. It was just five or six years ago that Iorio crossed swords with the county commission on a regular basis over issues such as consolidation of the city and county parks departments, the county’s ban on gay pride events and efforts to increase the county’s representation on local boards at the expense of the city.
But in the interim, the commission lost commissioners such as Ronda Storms and Jim Norman, who tended to see Tampa as an adversary, not a partner. And though the former mayor gave as good as she got in those years-ago confrontations, all was forgiven today.
Commission Chairman Ken Hagan called Iorio a “public servant who I’ve long admired and respected. She is a model public servant.”
Added Iorio: “I always thought good government was a reflection of the people we serve because people are good. They get up every day and try to live good lives, work hard, make an honest living and raise their families in a responsible way … that’s really what this country is all about: good people doing good things every day.”
Commissioner Les Miller remembered his wife Gwen, who worked at Greco Middle School in the 1970s, speak of a young Iorio and the leadership she showed even then. Later, Gwen Miller served as Tampa City Council President while Iorio was mayor.
“There is a difference between politicians and public servants,” Miller said, referring to Iorio. “Politicians will do whatever they need to do to keep being elected. Public servants will do what they need to do, not thinking of election outcomes.”
Miller said Iorio fit the latter description.
Iorio served as mayor from 2004 through 2011. During her administration, the city saw a nearly 62 percent decline in crime, downtown underwent a major revitalization and major sewer, water and stormwater projects were begun.
The Tampa Museum of Art finally moved into its new building under Iorio’s management and the Glazer Children’s Museum and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park were completed.
Like all the rest of Florida’s municipal and county governments, Tampa’s finances were hit hard by the collapse of property values during the Great Recession. But Iorio managed to cut costs and streamline municipal operations while maintaining service levels. When she left office, the city had $128 million in reserves.
A former county commissioner and supervisor of elections, Iorio was asked by community leaders in August to take over as chief executive officer of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. The taxpayer-supported agency was in turmoil after the board forced the former CEO out. Iorio, calling the agency’s staff “bloated,” cut the number of employees from 55 to 37, reducing salaries by nearly $1.5 million.
County commissioners created the Ellsworth G. Simmons Good Government Award in 1996 to honor individuals or groups who improve government through leadership and vision. Simmons served seven years on the school board and 21 years on the county commission. He is credited with helping create the University of South Florida, Tampa International Airport and University Community Hospital.