Hillsborough's Blair cleared of ethics complaint

TAMPA — The Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed a complaint against Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair that accused him of improperly influencing a regulatory decision.

Dover activist George Niemann claimed Blair interfered in the imposition of fines against a Thonotosassa mulching company. Mother's Organics Inc. had been accused by the county's Environmental Protection Commission of operating without authorization.

Niemann also claimed Blair had the EPC remove an account of his actions from minutes of a staff-level meeting he attended.

A summary of an Ethics Commission's investigation, released Tuesday, says it was unusual for Blair to go to such a meeting but not prohibited. And it finds that Blair had no effect on the outcome of settlement talks.

An Ethics Commission investigator found no evidence that Blair misused his position to benefit himself or anyone else.

The Ethics Commission agreed during a meeting Friday.

Blair "voiced his displeasure regarding EPC's method of operation, (but) there is no evidence that he interfered with or influenced the settlement agreement," an investigator wrote.

Mother's Organics had been accused of operating for months without EPC authorization, despite being warned for more than a year that approval was needed.

In a meeting late last year, Mother's Organics agreed to pay an $18,000 penalty.

A St. Petersburg Times story in January detailed Blair's presence at the meeting. Citing a draft of the minutes that were later altered, it described Blair protesting the fines. He is paraphrased as saying the settlement made him sick, likening EPC staff members to the Gestapo.

Blair said later that he made no threats, and said outcome of the hearing was what makes others call the EPC the Gestapo.

He reiterated Wednesday that he cleared his plan to go to the meeting with an EPC attorney and didn't exert influence. He said he still finds the treatment of the mulch company excessive.

"The main thing is, I wouldn't do anything unethical," he said. "It has taken me 40 years to build up a good reputation … and I certainly wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that by violating an ethical standards."

Hillsborough's Blair cleared of ethics complaint 06/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 2:28pm]

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