NEW PORT RICHEY — The staid Republican primary for clerk of the court has become anything but at the 11th hour.
In 2003, candidate Dan Tipton, the former mayor of New Port Richey, paid off an IRS tax lien of $23,840.82. He said he didn't pay his personal income taxes right away because of a dispute with the government over what he owed in 1996 and 1997.
"I found out too late you can't fight the government," Tipton said. "So I just paid the bill."
His opponent, Chief Deputy Clerk Paula O'Neil, is making an issue out of it. Her campaign consultant, Colleen Mackin, e-mailed the St. Petersburg Times a copy of the 2003 satisfaction of lien on Wednesday evening.
She noted that Tipton also fell behind on his property taxes in 1994 and 1995 but eventually paid up. O'Neil said voters should be aware of her opponent's tax history.
"The information was forwarded to us," she said, "so we forwarded it to (the Times) in case (they) thought it was newsworthy.
"I've tried to run a clean campaign and I've constantly had my record misrepresented and taken jab after jab."
Tipton defended himself by saying he never hid his tax issues and that he paid his debts.
"Like most business people, I've had good years and bad years," said Tipton, who owns an interior design business.
The candidates then had their most contentious exchanges of the campaign season.
O'Neil criticized a Tipton mailing that said she has no executive experience. O'Neil said since her appointment as chief deputy clerk in 2006, she has run the office's day-to-day operations.
She also disputed Tipton's assertion that he "led the charge," as his mailing said, to lower New Port Richey's property tax rate. He served as mayor from 2004 to this spring.
"He's taking credit for state-mandated tax reductions," O'Neil said.
"Tallahassee had nothing to do at all with that," Tipton replied.
Then he criticized O'Neil for making an issue of his tax lien days before Tuesday's election.
Tipton said O'Neil has touted her managerial experience but said she's then blamed the office's shortcomings on her boss, incumbent Clerk Jed Pittman.
"If it's good, she'll take the credit," Tipton said. "If it's bad, she'll put it back on her boss. I think you take the good with the bad in anything you do."
To which O'Neil replied: "I don't have complete control of the office, and as mayor of New Port Richey he didn't have complete control of the city, either."