ST. PETERSBURG — How many times has mayoral candidate Deveron Gibbons' license been suspended?
It's a simple question.
The answer, just now becoming clear, is anything but.
In some Sunday editions, the St. Petersburg Times ran a story based on Pinellas County records saying Gibbons' license had been suspended seven separate times. The incidents were for either failing to pay speeding tickets on time, not completing a defensive driving course or driving with an expired vehicle registration, the county records show.
In each case, the story said, Gibbons eventually paid the fine or completed the course, and his suspension was satisfied.
But the county records were wrong about the suspensions, and as a result our story was, too. As it turns out, Gibbons' state driving record also shows multiple suspensions, but officials say it's not right either.
Gibbons, 36 and a vice president for Amscot Financial, did fail to pay the tickets and complete the driving courses on time, as recorded by the Pinellas-Pasco clerk of the circuit court.
He also twice was cited for an expired vehicle registration and failed to pay those fines.
But in at least six of the seven cases, it appears his license was never suspended, said Alan Hebdon, who manages the traffic division for Clerk of Court Ken Burke.
Though the county record says "DL suspended" seven times, Hebdon says the state and not the county suspends licenses. The notation instead meant the county sent a suspension notice to the state.
The state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said Tuesday Gibbons paid his fines before any suspensions took place.
State records, meanwhile, show three suspensions for insurance violations. But that is wrong, the state says.
The state says Gibbons' license "effectively" has not been suspended in the last seven years — the time suspensions remain on one's record.
Gibbons, for his part, admits he always hasn't been the best driver. But what's clear is that he has paid all of his fines, and his license, today, remains valid.
When asked Tuesday if his license had ever been suspended, Gibbons said:
"I'm not sure, to be honest. What I do know is that I've been caught up in the bureaucracy. And common sense could not outweigh bureaucracy.
"When I'm mayor, if I hear of people getting caught in that same 'Bermuda Triangle' of bureaucracy, those are the first calls I'm going to return," Gibbons said.
How it works
A driver's license can be suspended for a host of things — from a DUI, to failing to pay child support, or failing to pay a speeding ticket, or accumulating too many points.
In most cases, it's the state motor vehicles department that controls formal suspensions.
Here's how the system works:
When the county realizes someone hasn't paid a fine or met a condition, it sends a "notice to suspend" to the state. The state writes the driver, giving him 20 days to pay or face suspension. If the driver satisfies the fine, as Gibbons did in his cases, the license is not suspended.
3 bad suspensions?
Gibbons' state record shows three suspensions, all based on questions about auto insurance.
Gibbons says he was in an accident in 2005 while in the process of changing insurance providers.
He mistakenly gave police documentation of a not-yet-active insurance policy. His license was suspended.
But Gibbons did have an active policy with another company. Though he tried to correct the error, the paper trail stuck to him twice more, he said.
The state eventually admitted its error.
In a letter provided to Gibbons by Division of Driver Licenses director Sandra Lambert, she says Gibbons always has maintained necessary insurance.
"This letter will confirm that your license is in good standing and has never been suspended for noncompliance with the statutes," wrote Lambert, who also signed Gibbons' driving record showing three insurance-related suspensions. Lambert declined to discuss the discrepancy.
Dave Westberry, the department director of communications, says Gibbons' license never should have been suspended for those infractions.
County, state disagree
On one case, a 2002 speeding charge, the county and the state disagree.
Gibbons was recorded driving 91 mph in a 65 mph zone. He failed to pay the $170 fine by a June deadline or July 17 extension.
On July 29, the county sent a notice to suspend order to the state. While the state normally gives 20 days to pay the fine, Gibbons took 126 days to pay his, according to the county. The county says Gibbons also paid a $25 reinstatement fee. The county's traffic division manager, Hebdon, says that fee is to reinstate the license.
But the state, which cannot explain the time lag, says Gibbons' license was never suspended.
"I believe our records to be accurate," said the state's Westberry.
Responded Hebdon: "Our records look pretty good as far as I can tell. I don't know why they're not showing that suspension."
The county says it's now considering changing the language in its recording system to avoid the phrase "DL suspended."
"Our job is to notify DMV," said Burke, the clerk of court. "We don't know if they suspend or not suspend or what they do."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.