Saturday, April 21, 2018
Politics

Didn't we already pick up the tab for a politician behaving badly?

In the end, it may not be the overall ickiness of the property appraiser pornography scandal that makes voters say in the upcoming election: Enough.

The embarrassing disclosure that Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner sent pornographic emails to an underling in his office might have been forgiven. Maybe.

Turner has called it a personal mistake involving a woman he once dated, consensual and mutual, but a private matter. And maybe enough voters would have agreed, or at least held their noses and re-elected him anyway.

Until they could be left with the bill.

What might be the last straw to topple a four-term incumbent is the prospect of taxpayers paying for embarrassingly bad behavior.

Again.

Around here, we already know the pain of picking up that tab. When then-Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White was accused of firing his young aide for refusing his sexual advances, his failed federal court defense and legal costs added up to nearly $600,000, most of which fell to taxpayers. To some, it was as much an insult as the bribery scandal that ultimately got White sentenced to prison.

Carolyn Filippone, who was Turner's human resources director, says in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that he sent her emails, many graphic and hard core, and asked for sex, advances she rejected. She says she was banished to an office in the suburbs after his wife got wind. And now, she's expected to sue.

Why? Because she is unemployed. And the timing of her firing is an eyebrow-raiser.

It came this week, a month after her EEOC complaint was dismissed but soon after the Times asked Turner about the situation. Turner says she was let go because allegations she made against him were false.

Important point: As the Times' Bill Varian reported this week, that EEOC dismissal doesn't necessarily vindicate Turner. The agency finds probable cause in only 4 percent of cases. And a letter to Filippone from the EEOC notes that a dismissal doesn't necessarily mean laws weren't broken.

A lawyer who knows this stuff tells me a defense for Turner could cost $250,000 to $400,000, and boy, could that fill a lot of potholes or otherwise be put to better public use.

Filippone's attorney has said she did not ask for money, that she just wanted to be allowed to do her job at the downtown office. Turner says there was no banishment. And already, his legal bills are more than $17,000.

You can bet most voters think a nickel is too much.

Could this end Turner's career? People are already buzzing about alternatives, like Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe. (No, he says.)

For his part, Turner is likely hoping the storm blows over, that his strong record of righting and running that office trumps a scandal. He says it was mutual. She says it was discrimination. And again, every time we get mired in the details, it's important to remember:

He. Was. Her. Boss.

He. Sent. Her. Porn.

And add this: One day, you may be on the financial hook for it.

A private matter? A personal mistake? Not so much, when we're talking public money, not to mention public trust.

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