Hillsborough Co. commissioners take first step to abolish EPG for pandemic response

Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners has taken the first step to abolish the Emergency Policy Group’s role with regards to coronavirus.

On Wednesday, the BOCC voted 7-0 to abolish the group and to shift its focus from coronavirus and back to its typical role in dealing with hurricanes.

The motion was brought up by Commission Chairman Les Miller, who believes it is time for the BOCC to take over the role of discussing and decision-making for this long-term pandemic.

“We all have been trying to figure out how to handle this and I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to take a different approach,” Miller said. “I feel it is critical to the health and well-being of the county and the citizens that the commission immediately considers whether returning the emergency powers and authority to the board of county commissioners would be more effective addressing the COVID pandemic by better harmonizing the board’s regulatory authorities with the Florida law.”

Miller also made note that Hillsborough is the only county in Florida to have a body such as the EPG.

Commissioner Mariella Smith also echoed Miller’s sentiment that the county commissioners should now assume the role of overseeing the coronavirus efforts being put in place.

“We are in uncharted waters and they’ve really stepped up and done a lot of work and some of it really politically courageous in this time and I respect everyone who has worked on that committee greatly but I believe that the time has come to consider how we move forward since the EPG was historically formed to handle short-term emergencies, primarily hurricanes,” Smith said.

She said that the county commission is the legislative body for Hillsborough and should act as such to not only eliminate confusion for the community but to do the roles in which they were elected.

Other commissioners, including Sandra Murman and Ken Hagan, expressed concerns about switching the role, stating it’s like “jumping ship” mid-pandemic. However, all believed it was a necessary change.

Hillsborough County Attorney Christine Beck will draft an amendment to put the powers in the hands of the BOCC, especially to deal with COVID-19. Pending a final vote, the EPG will then continue to deal with just hurricanes.

A special BOCC meeting will be held next Tuesday, July 21 to discuss this matter further. Then on Aug. 5, a public hearing will be held. Following the meeting, commissioners are expected to make a final vote on abolishing the EPG.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the group also discussed federal funding for Raymond James Stadium that will be used for COVID-19-related expenses.

The stadium, set to open to the public for Tampa Bay Buccaneers games and other events, will undergo more than $10 million in safety improvements. It comes from the federal CARES Act, commissioners said.

New features will include hand sanitizing stations, UV germicidal lights and thermometers to be used as spectators enter the venue.

“Within the projects, I will also note the venue to go touch-free, “said Eric Hart of the Tampa Sports Authority. “This venue has not been touch-free and we’ve done that because everything worked. We didn’t think we’d need to spend tax money to do it. Now, with the virus coming into play we need to convert the building to touch-free, from ticketing, to faucets, to hand sanitization, to additional wash stations.”

Hart noted that those who enter the venue must abide by social distancing guidelines and will also be required to wear masks.

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