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Former TV investigative reporter Mike Deeson sues Tampa over CFO’s address

By Charlie Frago
Former TV investigative reporter Mike Deeson. Times File Photo (2007)

Mike Deeson might have retired from the local television news, but he isn't done with reporting. And he says he's following up on a story that he's chased since 2012: Does Sonya Little, the city's chief financial officer, live in the city as required by Tampa's charter?

His company, Deeson Media, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court to compel the city to release Little's address.

Deeson, who retired from 10News WTSP last year, told the Tampa Bay Times that he decided to take legal action to force the administration of Mayor Bob Buckhorn to follow the law.

"I truly believe society breaks down when people make up their own rules," he said. "Bob is the mayor. He's not the king of the city."

Little said she is a Tampa resident.

"I'm in compliance and I live in the city of Tampa," Little said in a statement.

Although she was hired in 2011,  until mid-2017 Little lived outside city limits, according to the lawsuit. (The city didn't immediately respond to a request to confirm the above information.)

The city charter requires her job to be filled by a Tampa resident so  Little was classified as the "interim" director.

When the city said  Little had moved to the city last year, Deeson asked for her address, but the city balked, saying her address was exempt from the state Sunshine Law because she was a local government employee whose duties include revenue "collection and enforcement," according to the lawsuit.

Prior to the spring of 2017, the city had provided her unincorporated Hillsborough County home address when requested in previous public record inquiries, according to the suit.

Deeson contends that the state public records law wasn't intended to shield Little from revealing her home address and that he has discussed the city's stance with the state Attorney General's Special Counsel for Open Government.

The city has argued that Little's duties included collection and enforcement of revenue so her exemption is valid.

City Attorney Salvatore Territo reiterated that position Tuesday.

"Ms. Little is a  Resident of the City of Tampa, and her address is exempt from public records because of her position as the Director of Revenue and Finance of the City of Tampa,"said Territo in a statement.