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Election complaint dismissed against Pasco superintendent

LAND O'LAKES — The Florida Elections Commission has dismissed a complaint against Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino as legally insufficient.

That doesn't mean the West Pasco Board of Realtors, which filed the complaint, thinks it was wrong.

And with more tax-related referendums coming to voters later this year, the group will continue to watch Fiorentino's actions to see how she uses school district resources on those issues, said Greg Armstrong, West Pasco Board of Realtors president.

"If it were to happen again, maybe we will take the same position," Armstrong said.

The organization accused Fiorentino of using school district communication systems inappropriately in advocating against Amendment 1, which Florida voters approved in January. It contended that by using e-mail and a district-produced DVD, Fiorentino and her administration threatened employees' jobs if they did not vote against the measure, which threatened to decrease school funding.

Fiorentino had countered that she meant solely to inform district employees about the potential ramifications of the ballot initiative, and that the content was politically neutral. Moreover, she added, she never told anyone that layoffs loomed if the amendment won approval.

Key staffers also trotted out a 1991 Florida Supreme Court ruling — People Against Tax Revenue Mismanagement vs. County of Leon — to bolster their position that government may advocate on issues of public interest.

It was that case upon which Elections Commission executive director Barbara Linthicum based her Jan. 30 ruling that the complaint did not meet muster for a hearing. She gave the Realtors two weeks to submit any documents that might change that opinion.

Armstrong said the group's board decided not to spend any time or energy on the matter, seeing as the election had already taken place and the results came back in its favor.

"It died a natural death," he said of the complaint.

Still, Armstrong said he saw a key difference between the situation here in Pasco and that of the Leon County case. Specifically, the Leon case did not deal with threats to employee jobs, he said, while in his view the local matter did.

Fiorentino declined to comment on the case, noting she had not received official word that it had been closed. She received a letter in January stating that she "may not disclose this letter or the complaint" unless she filed a written waiver of confidentiality to the Elections Commission, something she has not done.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Election complaint dismissed against Pasco superintendent 04/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 8:25pm]
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