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Hillsborough commissioners call out two major local business organizations for lack of diversity

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners called out two prominent local business organizations Wednesday, citing a lack of diversity among their leadership.

The Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of business leaders, needs more African-American representation, said Commissioner Les Miller, the board’s lone black member. The organization’s council of governors, he pointed out, has one black member out of 22.

Visit Tampa Bay, a nonprofit the county pays for tourism marketing, could use more women, said Commissioner Pat Kemp. There are two women on the board of directors, a panel with 26 members, she noted.

In both instances, Miller and Kemp said the organizations were not representative of the communities they serve.

"I’m saying this because the work that you’re doing must be inclusive of the people throughout this entire county," Miller said. "I don’t feel that you have the total segment of the community sitting there, working with you to talk about the issues that are facing this entire community, this entire county right now."

Leaders of various local organizations often update Hillsborough County commissioners during the board’s semi-monthly meeting. They are usually thanked and excused without sparking much response from commissioners.

But not Wednesday. Tampa Bay Partnership president and CEO Rick Homans and his staff presented the organization’s 2018 Regional Competitiveness Report, a stark statistical analysis of the area’s strengths and shortcomings.

Among the findings: Hillsborough isn’t keeping or attracting enough talented workers, there’s an education gap, labor force participation is low, many earn wages at the poverty level and transit options don’t match the size of the community.

It was after the presentation that Miller voiced his concerns.

Homans acknowledged the lack of diversity on the organization’s leadership teams. The council of governors is an exclusive group of the region’s top business executives and requires a $50,000 membership fee. The leadership council costs $25,000 to join. Of its 21 members, Miller could identify only one black person.

"Quite frankly, we are actively seeking a diverse representation on that board," Homans said. He added that the organization reached out to many diverse voices to put together its competitiveness report.

Miller wasn’t sold. Commissioner Victor Crist agreed, saying that inclusive input "plays directly into the problems that we need to solve here."

Visit Tampa Bay president and chief executive Santiago Corrada came to Wednesday’s meeting to announce record tourism numbers, which puts the county on pace to pass for the first time $30 million in hotel bed tax collections. His presentation all but earned him high-fives from most of the commission.

But when Kemp questioned the lack of females on his advisory board, Corrada agreed it was a problem. He noted that of the two women on the board, one is leaving and one is retiring.

"We’ve been focused on it," Corrada said. "We will continue to focus because you’re absolutely right, that’s one of the instances where we need to improve."

Keeping with the theme, commissioners also voted 6-0 to ask the county’s Commission on the Status of Women to work with the county attorney’s office to review Hillsborough’s sexual harassment policies.

The request came from Commissioner Sandy Murman in direct response to the highly publicized sexual harassment and sexual assault scandals by men in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and workplaces across the country.

Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.

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