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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Drama bubbles over campaign contributions in race for Dunedin commission Seat 3

19

October

After criticism for contributing to the campaign of one City Commission Seat 3 candidate, planning and development director Greg Rice tried to remedy the situation by giving the same sum to the other candidate.

A high-ranking city employee who answersto and takes direction from the commission, Rice defended his contribution to incumbent Heather Gracy by saying it was unconventional -- he bought six $60 tickets for his wife and some friends to go to a Sept. 20 women's leadership event, which he knew doubled as a fundraiser for Gracy.

The $360 donation quickly set off opponent Reuben C. Hepburn's camp, and word traveled quickly to Rice, who last week decided to level the playing field by donating another $360 to Hepburn.

"I knew it was a fundraiser for (Gracy), but I didn't realize it was going to cause the stir that it did," Rice said. "I heard from other people that (Hepburn's) campaign staff was very upset, and I did not want it to be perceived that way."

Hepburn said Wednesday he has decided to return Rice's contribution, because in his opinion, accepting it would not be "ethical or appropriate."

"My folks, my supporters and my team have decided that because he is a city employee, we are going to return his money," Hepburn said. "If I am elected, I will end up working for this gentleman, and I wouldn't want any kind of misconception."

Gracy kept the contribution, made in September, until this week, when she says she instructed her campaign treasurer to write a check back to Rice, reimbursing him with the $360.

She said the ordeal has no bearing on her professional relationship with Rice and she paid him back to "end the distortion and innuendo."

"I've come down hard on (Rice) in the past," she said, "and if the need arises, I will come down just as hard in the future."

Rice said he never meant to cause a problem and looks forward to working with whichever candidate wins.

"I didn't mean to disrespect (Hepburn) in any way... I never intended for it to develop into what it did," he said. "I am getting ready to work for one or the other, and I definitely have no disrespect for either of them."

[Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2016 3:21pm]

    

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