Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

Investigation finds no wrongdoing in Pasco superintendent's campaign

LAND O'LAKES — An investigation into a former administrator's complaint that she was pressured to support Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino's re-election bid has turned up no wrongdoing.

Employee relations supervisor Betsy Kuhn wrote in a report released Monday that she had received no evidence that any of the accused administrators had participated in any election campaign activities while on duty. District policy forbids employees from taking part in political actions during the workday.

Kuhn, who returned to private law practice this week, added that interviews with the people in question did not offer enough clarity to determine whether anyone had violated the district's civility policy. That rule says aggressive actions and threats will not be tolerated.

Former Hudson Middle School assistant principal Buffey Simon, now a teacher at River Ridge Middle, told the School Board at its July 31 meeting that she felt compelled to back Fiorentino by her principal, Terry Holback, and other administrators.

"I received a text message during the school day from a district employee encouraging my attendance and financial contribution at a campaign fundraising event for the current superintendent," Simon told the board. "In addition, I was pressured twice by my supervisor (about) my plans on attending this event and was told it was in my best interest to support your boss."

She stressed that Fiorentino herself never approached her about the campaign.

Her comments came shortly after the School Board launched a separate investigation into similar complaints by retired Pasco Elementary principal Barbara Munz. That review, by Tampa lawyer Tom Gonzales, has not been completed.

Fiorentino asked the Employee Relations office to look into Simon's allegations.

Kuhn wrote that, lacking documentary evidence, she interviewed all people involved in Simon's allegations. She said the information, based on action from five months earlier, did not substantiate Simon's concerns.

Simon, who has a pending federal discrimination complaint against the district, said she was not surprised. "I told my side of the story," she said. "I thought they weren't really going to find anything. I'm disappointed."

But district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli, who was accused of sending a political text message to other district officials during work hours, said she felt vindicated.

"I didn't do anything wrong. So I am happy," said Romagnoli, who called Simon's accusations "politically motivated."

Holback and Fiorentino did not immediately return calls Monday seeking comment. Fiorentino faces former Secretary of State Kurt Browning and Moon Lake handyman Kenneth Benson in today's GOP primary. The winner faces only write-in opposition on the November ballot.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

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