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Elections Commission fines Harry Metz, CRG in St. Pete Beach

ST. PETE BEACH — More than $10,000 in fines were levied this month by the Florida Elections Commission against former Vice Mayor Harry Metz and the political action group Citizens for Responsible Growth.

The fines — the largest issued to date — against Metz relate to improper spending on political advertisements that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times in 2006.

At the time, Metz was CRG treasurer.

The commission found that Metz wrote checks for the advertisements "without having sufficient funds on deposit in the campaign account to pay the full amount of the authorized expense."

In addition to citing CRG for the same spending violation, the commission found that in 2007 CRG improperly accepted three contributions in excess of $500 during a time it was supporting then-commission candidates Metz and Linda Chaney. Both were CRG organizers.

CRG also failed to include proper disclaimers in several political advertisements in 2007, the commission found.

The elections commission fined CRG $7,000 and Metz $3,750.

"The fines were paid by CRG," Metz said Friday, adding that the organization plans to seek reimbursement of legal fees from the original complainant, Greg Nicklaus.

Metz insisted that in paying the fines neither he nor CRG is admitting guilt in the two elections cases, calling the findings "technical violations."

Although he declined to say who contributed the money to CRG to pay the fines, Metz did admit that during the height of the battle against a 2008 referendum to amend the city's comprehensive plan, Bill Pyle often covered CRG treasury shortfalls.

"I would get a bill and call Mr. Pyle. I'd tell him how much we were short, he would give me a check and I would pay the bill," Metz said.

"Mr. Pyle is a very concerned person who believes the majority of the people don't want tall buildings. He is willing to put his money where his mouth is," Metz said.

Pyle is suing the city over the 2008 referendum that changed the city's comprehensive plan and redevelopment codes. This and other lawsuits over that plan are awaiting court resolution.

Politically motivated complaints to either the state ethics or elections commissions seems to be a virtual blood sport in St. Pete Beach.

More than a dozen elections or ethical complaints have been filed against CRG, and Metz has filed four elections complaints against Save Our Little Village and/or its officers.

But in recent years, Metz has filed ethics complaints including those against Nicklaus' sister, Deborah, a former city commissioner, and former Commissioner Deborah Martohue.

Most of Metz's complaints were dismissed, but the Florida Commission on Ethics did find probable cause in some of them, but declined to pursue them.

Last year, Metz was ordered by the Florida Commission on Ethics to pay a $500 fine for failing to completely report his income and assets during his 2007 political campaign.

The complaint against Metz and a similar complaint against former Commissioner Chaney alleged that they not only failed to properly report income and assets, but that Chaney had received free legal services, an action that could have influenced her official actions as an elected official.

The commission dismissed those charges. It did find probable cause that Chaney failed to accurately report rental income on her financial disclosure form but also found that she "took steps to accurately report her interests and there was no intent to mislead." The commission took no further action and did not fine Chaney.

Most recently, Metz filed a lawsuit against City Commissioner Beverly Garnett alleging that she owes the city more than $4,000 it paid for her legal fees in actions that began before she was elected to the commission.

That case, which at one time also involved the city as a defendant, is pending.

Elections Commission fines Harry Metz, CRG in St. Pete Beach 08/28/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 27, 2010 5:59pm]
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