LARGO — As early voting has opened and Election Day draws near, accusations are flying in two City Commission races over a murky campaign contribution, some questionable tactics and mailings that skirt the truth.
Robert Avery, who is running against Robert Hunsicker and incumbent Harriet Crozier for Seat 5, filed a complaint with the Florida Election Commission on Monday against Hunsicker, saying he failed to disclose his campaign website as a contribution.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who received support from Hunsicker during his own campaign last year, gave Hunsicker use of a website he owns.
According to its domain registration, Hunsicker4Largo.com's address is registered to Holmes and was created June 26.
The contribution of the digital property, Avery alleges, should have been declared.
"The website itself had no value, so I did not put it down," Hunsicker said, noting the website had to be rebuilt for his own purposes.
Hunsicker said he paid for Web hosting out of his campaign's petty cash, $14.95 taken out on July 12. That still leaves a two-week gap between when the domain was created and when Hunsicker reported he began paying for hosting services.
Holmes said the site design was a template from Microsoft Office, and he does not pay for hosting services. He said his contribution ended there.
"I washed my hands of all these campaigns. I haven't even put up a sign," Holmes said.
Avery has also accused Hunsicker of improperly using funds from petty cash — taking out more than $100 during a one-week period — and stealing his campaign signs.
"His volunteers are yanking my signs, destroying my signs," Avery said. "My signs disappear, the next day three or four of his signs appeared."
Sign-stealing accusations inevitably crop up in many local elections and are usually difficult to prove.
Hunsicker said the accusations are "whiny," and he is focused on the larger issues facing the city.
Hunsicker also has been the target of other accusations from competitors and their supporters.
Former City Commissioner Gay Gentry, who has contributed to Crozier's campaign, brought attention recently to postcards sent to potential voters by Hunsicker that made claims of tax dollars supporting boondoggles such as trips for seniors to the Hard Rock Casino.
The casino trips, city officials have said, were paid for by the participants in Community Center programs.
In the Seat 6 race, supporters of Vice Mayor Woody Brown, who is running for his first re-election bid, accused challenger Doug Lardner's supporters — members of Largo's International Association of Fire Fighters — of violating rules against city employees wearing uniforms while campaigning.
The firefighters, who endorsed Lardner, have been waving signs while wearing firefighting gear.
The catch, however, is that the gear is not city-owned property. The firefighters were loaned the equipment — obsolete or damaged gear bound for disposal — by the owner of a New Port Richey company that refurbishes firefighting equipment.
"I can promise you that none of the equipment they were wearing was city-issued," Lardner said. "I know they know the rules."