Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hire A Pony Riding Academy owner tries to buck Oldsmar candidates over trail use

OLDSMAR — If a nonprofit organization circulates a letter slamming the mayor and calling on residents to vote for his opponent and two other council hopefuls in next week's city election, is that a violation of state election laws?

That's the question the City Council wants the Florida Division of Elections to answer after 500 Oldsmar residents and business owners received a one-page letter last week that endorses mayoral candidate Suzanne Vale, Seat 2 contender Tom Eckert and Seat 4 prospect Loretta Wyandt.

At issue is whether the letter is a political advertisement or an electioneering communication, Department of State spokeswoman Jennifer Davis said.

A political advertisement is a communication that expressly advocates for or against a candidate or an issue; an electioneering communication uses trigger words such as "vote for" or "vote against."

"If they determine it's a political advertisement," Davis said, "there would need to be a disclaimer on it saying who paid for it. And then if over $500 was spent on that communication, whoever paid for it would have needed to file as a political committee, but that's what the Florida Elections Commission would determine."

If it's an electioneering communication, the state wouldn't have any regulatory authority, she said. The courts have thrown out laws on electioneering communication to not infringe on a person's free-speech rights.

In the letter, a horse farm owner at the center of one of the city's longest-running disputes writes that Mayor Jim Ronecker and other council members "are not horse or child friendly."

For nearly a decade, Hire A Pony Riding Academy owner Armando Gort has tried to use a trail at the public Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve for horseback riding. Vale has supported the request, but Ronecker, Seat 2 candidate Janice Miller and Vice Mayor Jerry Beverland have not.

"With the people we have in office now, we haven't gotten anywhere," Gort said. "Oldsmar chooses businesses. They allow whoever they like."

He said the candidates named in the letter, which includes the name of his business and nonprofit, weren't aware their names were going to be used.

"I'm a private citizen," he said Wednesday. "I can support whoever I like. Isn't that freedom of speech?"

The issue was on Tuesday's City Council agenda — an unusual move that caused a heated exchange between council members Ed Manny and Beverland.

Beverland was the person who added the item to the agenda.

Ed Manny said the agenda should be reserved for city business, not campaign matters.

Beverland said he added the letter to the agenda only because he wanted City Attorney Tom Trask "to explain which route we go through to get an opinion about Armando's letter because he's hurting the candidates. There's a lot of people upset with this. It did not have a disclaimer."

City Clerk Lisa Lene said she plans to request an opinion from the state within a week.

Despite that, Gort said another 500 letters will be distributed this week. The new letter will say "support" instead of "endorse."

"I'm not doing nothing wrong," he said. "They can do whatever they like."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at or (727) 445-4167.

Hire A Pony Riding Academy owner tries to buck Oldsmar candidates over trail use 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 8:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays make Hechavarria trade official


    Here is the release from the team ...


  2. Jones: Will Tampa Bay hit a Hall of Fame dry spell now?

    Lightning Strikes

    Marty St. Louis may lack the Hall of Fame stats, but two scoring titles, an MVP award and clutch goals should count for a lot. (Dirk Shadd, Times)
  3. SeaWorld shares drop Monday to 2017 low after disclosure of federal subpoena


    The Orlando parent company of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks saw its stock drop 3.5 percent Monday to $15.10, its lowest price of this year.

    Killer whales perform at Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld in Orlando in 2011, before public pressure was placed on the theme park company to curtail its orca shows.SeaWorld has since announced an end to the traditional killer whale entertainment  at its theme parks. [AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack]
  4. Update: Scientology cancels planned mock FBI raid on downtown building

    Special Topics

    CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology planned to film a mock FBI raid on a downtown building Monday afternoon, but the actors and cameras never showed up to the location disclosed to the city.

    According to Clearwater Police, the Church of Scientology plans to hold a mock FBI raid at 3 p.m. Monday at this vacant building at 305 N Fort Harrison Ave. Police announced the raid in advance to alert the public. They said they did not know the reason for the event. [Google Earch image]
  5. Support for gay marriage surges, even among groups once wary

    Human Interest

    NEW YORK — In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey.

    People gather in Washington's Lafayette Park to see the White House lit up in rainbow colors on June 26, 2015, the day the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage legal. In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey released on Monday, June 26, 2017. [Associated Press]