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His state ethics complaint seen as a civic duty

David Plyer, 62, of Clearwater, says he wants to know the facts behind the allegations against House Speaker Ray Sansom.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

David Plyer, 62, of Clearwater, says he wants to know the facts behind the allegations against House Speaker Ray Sansom.

CLEARWATER — At first glance, David Plyer seems like the last person on Earth who would file an ethics complaint against a high-ranking state legislator.

Soft-spoken and reserved, the retired electrical engineer who favors Hawaiian shirts and bags groceries at a gourmet foods store describes himself as a "let's all be nice to each other kind of guy" who hates confrontation.

But after learning that House Speaker Ray Sansom had secured a $110,000-a-year job at Northwest Florida State College after steering millions to the school, Plyer, 62, says he felt compelled to act.

He filed a complaint against Sansom with the state Commission on Ethics on Dec. 8, citing a Florida Statute that prohibits public officials from using their position to gain special privilege for themselves or others.

Three weeks later, as he waits for a response, Plyer says he is baffled that no one else thought to do the same thing.

"It was very simple," he said. "You go online to the ethics commission, download the form, complete it and send it in with the hope they'll follow up. It's something that anybody can do."

First impressions to the contrary, Plyer, a registered Democrat who lives in Clearwater, is no stranger to community activism. In the 12 years since he retired from AT&T Paradyne, he has worked with several volunteer groups, most notably the Pinellas County Juvenile Justice Council.

Along the way, he has picked up friends and foes alike. Some, like Pinellas School Board member Janet Clark, say he's been moderate and calm when he's come before the board to plead that students who have committed noncriminal offenses be kept out of the juvenile justice system.

Others, like Pinellas County Commission Chairman Calvin Harris, say that while Plyer's motives often are laudable, his methods are not.

"He just attacks everybody," said Harris, who has worked with Plyer on the Juvenile Justice Council. "It's kind of a scorched earth approach. If people don't agree with him, he thinks they're wrong, evil."

In fact, Harris says, Plyer's behavior is so over the top that he doubts his latest effort to shine a light on the allegations against Sansom will be taken seriously.

None of this bothers Plyer, who maintains that his goal in lodging the complaint was merely to "see if anybody is listening out there."

"Whether this fellow is guilty or innocent is not for me to decide," Plyer said. "But we need to know the facts before we can go anywhere, and the facts seem to be hard to come by."

Born in Virginia, Plyer has lived in California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maryland. He majored in electrical engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and moved to Clearwater in 1989.

In 1996, his 19-year-old son, Roger, committed suicide, prompting Plyer to get involved with the local chapter of the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program. He maintains the group's Web site and has supported its efforts for inclusion in the Pinellas School District's speakers bureau.

A staunch opponent of the war in Iraq, he has protested with the antiwar group St. Pete for Peace. He has volunteered as a poll worker and has written countless letters to the St. Petersburg Times on a range of issues, from school bus safety to fluoridation of the county's water supply to the County Commission's decision to restrict speech at meetings.

Cathy Corry, his companion of 12 years, says it was Plyer's kindness and sweetness that first attracted her to him.

"He's very interested in other people," said Corry, 53. "He wants to help people in whatever they're doing."

For six years, Plyer has worked three days a week bagging groceries at the Fresh Market in Clearwater. He says the job gives him a chance to observe how frustrated people are with government officials, and how their feelings of helplessness and alienation have increased over time.

Their dismay magnifies his own, Plyer says, galvanizing him to action.

Even if that action is as simple as filing an ethics complaint.

"I was brought up to believe that you do what the teachers tell you, you do what the police tell you, you do what the authorities tell you," Plyer said. "I've since learned there is no shame in questioning authority. In fact, it's your duty to do that."

His state ethics complaint seen as a civic duty 12/31/08 [Last modified: Monday, January 5, 2009 4:56pm]

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