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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Saying ‘yes’ to ‘Commissioner No’ Platt is right

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Jan Platt was much more than just “Commissioner No” during her time on the Hillsborough County Commission. She became justifiably known as a champion of the environment, and that’s a legacy to last a lifetime.

Platt is generally considered the major force behind the county’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program – we know it better as ELAPP. It was launched in 1987 and now includes more than 61,000 acres.

With green space and natural habitats disappearing around here as fast as bulldozers can move, Platt’s vision becomes important with each passing year. It was in that spirit that current Commissioner Kevin Beckner proposed re-naming the program in Platt’s honor.

A vote is scheduled at Wednesday’s commission meeting. My guess is the motion will be easily adopted.

But wouldn’t you know it, we now have an ELAPP flap.

Some of the staunchest supporters of the program want to say no to the erstwhile Commissioner No. It’s not because they don’t like Platt, or don’t appreciate what she has meant to the cause. The argument seems to be the program shouldn’t be named for anyone, especially a former politician.

“The more I think about it, it’s inappropriate for one commissioner to make a motion to name a publicly owned, publicly funded, publicly authorized program after another former commissioner without public process,” said Mariella Smith, a member of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club,

“Let me make it clear – I think Kevin Beckner’s motion comes from a fine place. It’s a fine impulse to honor someone who deserves it. Jan Platt should be honored.”

Just not like this.

Smith made the point that putting Platt’s name on the program could turn some supporters against it because she might have made some enemies during her political career.

Honestly, my hunch is that opponents are over-thinking it there. Anyone who supports environmental preservation is not going to say, “Well, I was all for it until they named it after HER.”

This does seem to be coming together quickly, though. Even commission Chairman Ken Hagan concedes, “Candidly, (the proposal) caught me by surprise. Commissioner Beckner brought it up out of nowhere.”

Surprised or not, Hagan is all for it.

“She is the person responsible for the ELAPP program,” he said. “I can’t think of a more appropriate person to name this after.”

It’s reasonable to argue that naming this program for its foremost champion does politicize it a bit. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that she fought to protect the environment at a time when commissioners wanted to pave over every inch of open ground in this county, without regard to the impact.

Platt wasn’t the only one speaking in defense of Hillsborough’s natural beauty, but she was the most persuasive. Chances are we wouldn’t have ELAPP without Commissioner No’s persistent push.

So, to me, it’s time to say “yes” to No. Putting her name officially on the program seems like the right thing to do.

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