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Hernando commission candidate's ride-along with firefighters raises questions

Republican Laurie Pizzo is seeking the Hernando County Commission seat held by Dave Russell. 

Republican Laurie Pizzo is seeking the Hernando County Commission seat held by Dave Russell. 

BROOKSVILLE — For Laurie Pizzo, a District 4 candidate for the Hernando County Commission, the ride-along with fire officials for 10 hours Monday was a chance to educate herself about the county's fire service.

In the course of her visits with firefighters, she also had the opportunity to answer questions and pass out palm cards about her candidacy.

Now county officials are asking questions of their own, to find out whether the firefighters violated the county's policy restricting political activity.

And to make sure that others do not tread into that treacherous arena, the county's risk manager, Cristi Charlow, on Thursday issued copies of the policy to all county employees via email with a cover letter noting: "As election season is upon us, we wanted to remind all employees of the attached Political Activity Restrictions Policy that regulates political activities of Hernando County (Commission) employees.''

After Pizzo heard that questions had been raised, she said Friday that she read the county policy and realized that handing out campaign literature and her political conversations were problematic.

"I probably should not have done that,'' she said. "There was no harm intended.''

Pizzo said such ride-alongs help her understand firsthand what county employees do and that she expects they will help her make good decisions as a commissioner.

Interim Fire Chief Mike Nickerson said county officials learned about Pizzo's activities on Wednesday and have not yet determined whether an investigation of the employees' activities is warranted.

Ride-alongs are not an uncommon practice when members of the public want to see how the government is spending their money, Nickerson said.

This is the second time Pizzo has found herself in the middle of a situation because of a ride-along. In January, she was riding with a Hernando County sheriff's deputy when another off-duty deputy was pulled over under suspicion of driving while intoxicated. She was a witness and stated that the accused deputy appeared to pass field sobriety tests.

Pizzo is seeking the commission seat held by Dave Russell, who has announced he will not seek re-election. She will face Jeff Holcomb in the Republican Party primary later this summer. The other announced candidate for the seat is Democrat Dan Oliver.

Hernando commission candidate's ride-along with firefighters raises questions 05/16/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2014 7:22pm]
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