Bill Gunter rejects accusation that he hid his criminal past in application with Pasco school district
Bill Gunter, one of three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Florida House District 36, has not hidden that he was arrested in the 1980s for petty theft.
He also has been arrested a handful of other times, in Manatee County for misdemeanor driving with a suspended license and in Alachua County for battery. Gunter has used his history to tell people about how he turned his life around.
But Gunter rejects accusations by the Florida Times-Union that he failed to disclose his past when he applied in 2007 to become an assistant football coach at River Ridge High School in Pasco County, where he's seeking to serve.
And the Pasco school district backed him up.
District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe told the Tampa Bay Times that the district requested criminal background checks from the FDLE and FBI on Gunter when he applied, and both came back clean. (The district would not provide those documents, citing an exemption to the state public records law.)
Further, she noted, the district's application asked 15 questions relating to criminal history. Those asked about convictions and findings of guilt, and not of arrests. Gunter had no convictions -- his Alachua County battery charge was tossed by prosecutors, and his Manatee DWSL case had adjudication withheld.
Manatee County records do show that Gunter entered a plea of no contest and paid a fine before having the misdemeanor case closed. He did answer "no" to the district question of whether he had ever pleaded nolo contendre or no contest in a criminal proceeding.
In a previous question, though, the district made clear it considered "minor traffic violations" separate from other criminal offenses and did not seek details about those.
Gunter issued a written statement saying he did not believe he had done anything wrong.
"It has always been my understanding that the delinquent acts of a juvenile are not considered part of a background on job applications," he wrote.
And followed it up with an email to the Times.
"In the decades since those events, faith and maturity gave me the strength and wisdom to leave foolish things behind and devote my life to helping others," Gunter wrote. "Nevertheless, for the second time in 24 hours, liberal special interests and career politicians are trying to use my childish mistakes to cloud the important issues of this campaign. I remain focused on real issues: how do we get Pasco County families back on the road to economic recovery and how do we protect consumers from those who would take advantage of them."