Hillsborough County Commissioner Michael Owen administered the Oath of Office to the 2023 Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District (HSWCD) Board of Supervisors at the Frederick B. Karl County Center on Jan. 4.
Sworn in at the ceremony were Chris “Bear” McCullough (District 1), Ryan Gill (District 2), Robert “Myke” Morris (District 4), and Mark Proctor (District 5). Unable to attend, Adam Young (District 3) took the oath afterward.
Due to legislative changes, all five seats were up for reelection, with Proctor the sole returning board member. The former board elected him chair at their December meeting.
Each of the four supervisors in attendance Jan. 4 offered remarks upon taking their oaths, but first it was Owen’s turn to address the purpose of soil and water conservation districts nationwide, as he introduced as well the outgoing chairman of the board, Andrew Brooks, who was in attendance to witness the ceremony.
“The Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District is one of nearly 3,000 conservation districts nationwide,” Owen said. “It is tasked to educate, communicate, assist, support, coordinate and promote best conservation practices to families, farmers, schools, civic clubs, businesses, individuals and agricultural interests. Conservation is everybody’s business.”
As the newly elected county commissioner for District 4, Owen said his door is open always to any citizen countywide, as he addressed as well the unique nature of his district, being home to a large number of farms and agricultural interests.
“These folks are the salts of the earth and the people that I really look up to and admire every day,” Owen said.
First up for his oath and comments was McCullough, a cattleman in south Hillsborough County, where his family has deep agricultural roots.
“I’m very proud to represent the county, and proud to represent my family, and I’m proud to represent the agricultural community of this county,” McCullough said. “We’ve been doing it behind the scenes for quite a while and it was time to step up to the plate and put our money where our mouth is. We wanted a seat at the table and we got it.”
In thanking his family, Gill alluded as well to the deep agricultural ties his family has in the community. “Agriculture is very deeply rooted in our history, and we wanted to make sure that we could keep and preserve that agricultural history and that’s why I decided to run for supervisor,” said Gill, who hails from an iconic Hillsborough County ranching and farming family.
Morris said he wished his father “could be here today,” as he was on the HSWCD Board of Supervisors many years ago (serving for a spell as the chairman), back when it was an appointed position. “Dad would be proud that I’ve been elected to the board now,” said Morris, who runs his family’s timber farm and has been, like his father before him, an agricultural lender for many years in Florida.
As for Proctor, he qualified to run to retain his seat because of his family business in animal husbandry, which is among the qualifications for board service Florida legislators approved last year that took effect Jan. 1.
“I was first elected in 2016,” Proctor said, “and one of the questions asked is, ‘What do people do on the soil and water conservation district?’ ” To help answer that question, Proctor said he worked with HSWCD Executive Director Betty Jo Tompkins to launch the annual Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge.
“This is about preserving our natural resources and continuing to make sure that people, not only in the agricultural community, but in the urban, suburban and rural communities know what it’s all about.” Proctor said.
According to Tompkins, Hillsborough 100 aims to involve individuals and groups in100 or more conservation-minded projects annually, which in 2023 will be showcased April 16 through May 6. The initiative engages urban, suburban, inner-city and rural populations in projects, programs and activities that drive home the mission that, “Conservation is everybody’s business.”