By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON
Residents of this oft-ignored small but unique and growing town in Hillsborough County will have the opportunity to talk with one of their elected representatives later this month. With a population of approximately 15,000, Gibsonton residents feel they are way down the totem pole on positive actions and responses from the bureaucrats and county commissioners of Hillsborough County.
Gibtown, as it is endearingly known, is struggling with a host of problems. Residents are looking forward to a heart-to-heart talk with its District 1 Commissioner Sandra Murman as a step toward alleviating some or all of these ongoing problems.
Not as glamorous as Apollo Beach, its conjoined neighbor to the south, or as booming as Riverview, a hotbed of commercial activity to the east, or as distinguished as Sun City Center, an oasis of retirement to the southeast, Gibsonton has its own uniqueness that none of them can match. Gibsonton’s reputation as a sideshow wintering town for carnival workers remains viable, but with the per capita income for residents hovering around the $16,000-a-year level, it is not exactly a center of major influence with the powers that be in Tampa.
The physical centerpiece of the unincorporated community is the Alafia River, which runs east and west, and U.S. 41, the Tamiami Trail, which runs north and south. Carnies still make Gibsonton a permanent home or a transient home when they are not on the road. The two most prominent physical structures are the International Independent Showmen’s Association, also referred to as the Gibtown Showmen’s Club, and IISA Museum right across the street, both viable landmarks of the carnival industry and magnets for tourists.
Gibsonton is one of the few Florida communities that has been granted a special zoning designation. Most of the area is an RSB or Residential Show Business zone, so designated to allow home and landowners to keep elephants, livestock, circus equipment and trailers in their backyards or front lawns. This RSB code, according to many Gibtown residents, is not appreciated or understood by the county code regulators from Tampa. According to one longtime resident, the county would just as soon do away with the designation. Code enforcers often abuse their authority by citing properties of showpeople in the spring and summer when they are on tour, point out some of the longtimers. Gibsonton also suffers from other public service problems, which behoove the county’s attention and action: Flooding, poor street lighting and cluttered drainage ditches. Other maladies in Gibtown include a lack of an adequate sewer system down U.S. 41 S., which impedes commercial growth, especially a major supermarket. And like all over-developed Hillsborough County to the west and to the east, Gibtown is grappling with severe traffic problems and road deficiencies created by an unrestrained boom in subdivisions.
The Concerned Citizens of Gibsonton plan to address these problems with Murman at a town hall meeting at Gardenville Park on Wednesday, Feb. 27, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. The public is invited to this meeting at the former, century-old schoolhouse at 6219 Symmes Road, Gibsonton.
Murman was elected as a Hillsborough County Commissioner in 2010, representing District 1. She was reelected without opposition in June 2012 and subsequently reelected to her third term in November 2016. She was elected by her fellow commissioners as Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for 2017-18.
Prior to joining the county commission, Murman completed eight years as a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1996-2004. Murman was the first Republican woman to hold the position of Speaker Pro-Tempore in the Florida House of Representatives. As a longtime resident of Hillsborough County, Murman has spent many hours volunteering her time as a community advocate as well as a public policy leader.
Murman is currently focused on five major areas: (1) Economic Development and bringing jobs to Hillsborough County through her work as former Chairman of the Economic Prosperity Stakeholders Committee, former Chairman of Tourist Development Council (TDC), former member of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and serving on the board of CareerSource Tampa Bay. (2) Transportation Through Economic Development, where she is working with all local leaders to craft future effective transportation policy, and she serves on the boards for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) Authority, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Tampa Port Authority and as a former member of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA). (3) Ending Homelessness in Hillsborough County through her work as a founding board member of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI), and the Steps Forward group that is implementing the Housing First model here. (4) Continued improvements to Customer Service and Communications between the county and its citizens. (5) Providing high-quality critical Children’s Services in Hillsborough County through her creation of a Blue Ribbon Committee for Child Safety, and serving on the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County; the Eckerd Friends of the Children board; the Florida KIDS COUNT U.S.F. Advisory Council; the Early Learning Coalition Board; the Starting Right, Now Board; the Healthy Start Coalition Board; and the Family Healthcare Foundation Board.
Murman is a native of Indiana and a graduate of Indiana University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Marketing. She is married to Tampa attorney Jim Murman of Barr, Murman, Tonelli, P.A., and they have a daughter, Michele, who graduated from Florida State University and is married to Dr. Michael Bradner. They live in Tampa and have two children.