There are some important public jobs to start filling in 2018 throughout Tampa Bay. How well they are filled will help determine the future quality of life in the region. Some positions already are vacant. Some won't be vacated for months, although the maneuvering by potential successors soon will be in full swing.
Chief executive, HART
The departure of Katharine Eagan to lead the mass transit agency in Pittsburgh leaves a big leadership void in the Tampa Bay area's halting effort to modernize its transportation system. As the chief executive of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, Eagan played a key role in the ongoing studies into expanding Tampa's downtown streetcar, rebuilding the area's interstates and creating new regional connections across Tampa Bay. Her successor must possess her ability to be innovative on the operations side while also capable of selling a larger vision for transit in a growing metro area. The county's selection will speak volumes about Hillsborough's ambitions, its acknowledgement of its regional leadership role and its commitment to deliver.
Mayor, city of Tampa
The election to select a successor to term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn is not until March 2019, but the field and the issues in that race will play out this year. Already, several familiar Tampa names have already popped up, from City Council members to a former police chief. Do voters in the this environment want traditional political experience or a business background for the next mayor? What is the plan for building on Buckhorn's success downtown, and in growing the region? What are the weak spots in the neighborhoods, and how would the candidates address them? Mayoral races in Tampa are close-contact exercises in retail politics. Clan loyalties and organization will be at least as important as money, and the front-runners will become clear later this year.
Regional chancellor, USF St. Petersburg
The University of South Florida's waterfront campus has been without a permanent leader since USF president Judy Genshaft forced out Sophia Wisniewska for leaving her post without proper notice and evacuating to Atlanta as Hurricane Irma approached. The episode rekindled the tensions between the flagship Tampa campus and regional campus in St. Petersburg, where there now is a leadership void and another top administrator is leaving this week. Wisniewska was popular on and off campus, and the next USFSP chancellor will have some fence-mending to do to ensure the campus stays on an upward path.
Executive director, Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board
The board that regulates private contractors in Pinellas is due for a major overhaul after local legislators agreed to pursue moving the agency under county control. The board had operated independently for decades, and that lack of oversight led to sloppy accounting and record-keeping and unfair treatment of both consumers and contractors. Its longtime director, Rodney Fischer, resigned under pressure after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found a number of irregularities and questionable practices regarding the handling of violations and fines. If the Legislature and governor sign off on a new law making the board a county agency, it will need a leader who will work to restore consumers' trust by making fairness, consistency and transparency paramount.
Legislative leaders, Tampa Bay
House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O' Lakes has been a controversial figure and is finishing up his last year in the House as he contemplates a run for governor. Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater has resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment and corruption. Sen. Wilton Simpson of Trilby and Rep. Chris Sprowls of Clearwater are in line to be future leaders of their respective chambers but won't take charge for nearly three years. Until then, who will emerge as Tampa Bay's most effective lawmakers with the regional vision to accomplish lasting change in transportation, education and other areas?