After some confusion, contention, Pasco commissioners vote on reorganization

Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley took over as the board’s latest chairman, a decision that did not go over well with Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Ron Oakley is the Pasco County Commission’s next chairman, but the reorganization didn’t sit well with some of his peers.

Most notably, Commissioner Kathryn Starkey voiced her displeasure that she still hasn’t had a turn as chair.

“We have had a tradition in this county of rotating the chairmanships and I’m a little offended here today,” said Starkey, who has sat on the board since being first elected in 2012. “I’ve been a commissioner for eight years and a School Board member for six. I ran a very efficient meeting. I don’t understand this slight and frankly I don’t think it’s appropriate. I’m just disappointed. We treat our fellow board members with respect and I think this is disrespectful and I feel that I need to say that.”

The proceeding itself stumbled along throughout, primarily due to uncertainties about the nominating and voting process from the board’s newest member, Christina Fitzpatrick. County Clerk and Comptroller Nikki Alvarez-Sowles led the process. When she opened the nomination process, Commissioner Jack Mariano’s motion for Starkey stood alone. Alvarez-Sowles closed the nomination period but Fitzpatrick suggested a desire to nominate Oakley.

After a brief discussion and explanations from Alvarez-Sowles and County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder, the nomination period was reopened and Fitzpatrick selected Oakley.

Commissioners began by voting for Starkey and that nomination failed 3-2, gaining support from Starkey and Mariano. The vote for Oakley went 3-2 in his favor.

Mariano, who was participating via video because of his recent positive COVID-19 test, suggested prior to the votes that Oakley would be his recommendation for vice chair, but that did not sway any of the other three commissioners.

Starkey said her disappointment is solely based on the chairmanship rotating amongst commissioners. 

“I’m going to be voting no for Commissioner Oakley,” she said prior to the votes. “I think you’re a very capable chair, but I think I am, too. I would be happy to see you as vice chair and get our rotation going back again.

“We haven’t had the rotation that I think is traditional in this county and I think that’s a dangerous precedent to set.”

Commissioner Mike Moore, the board’s previous chair before last week’s meeting, said he understood the issue Starkey raised but didn’t completely agree with the opinion.

“I look at other counties and not every county does a rotation,” Moore said. “I look at Hillsborough County and their chair was the same for many years. Obviously that commission felt that chairperson did a good job running a meeting, and basically what you’re doing as chair is running a meeting. We don’t have a mayoral system here in Pasco County by any means. The job of the chair is basically to run an efficient meeting.”

Once Oakley switched seats with Moore and took the gavel, he opened the process of nominating and voting for a vice chair. Mariano again selected Starkey and the vote passed 5-0.