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Hillsborough elections supervisor withdraws request for $2.3-million

TAMPA — Hillsborough elections supervisor Buddy Johnson is taking his budget book and going home.

Johnson had a mass e-mail sent out Friday afternoon saying he has withdrawn his request for $2.3-million to cover cost overruns from the November election.

He says he'll leave it to his successor, Phyllis Busansky, to figure out the office's budgetary needs after she takes office Jan. 6.

"I feel it is best to withdraw the request so that Mrs. Busansky can review the budget and make her own decision about the amendment," he wrote.

The significance is not immediately clear. Commissioners rejected Johnson's request Wednesday, blasting him publicly for not showing up in person to make his case for the increase.

Instead, commissioners unanimously ordered an independent audit to determine if it is justified. Some interpreted the about-face by Johnson as a signal that he won't cooperate with the audit.

"It appears he's withdrawing the request to avoid the audit," said County Administrator Pat Bean.

Busansky took it the same way Friday. But it may not matter because she said she plans to request an audit from the Clerk of the Circuit Court's auditor when she takes over.

Johnson declined comment via Blackberry message.

Johnson says in the mass e-mail that he was up front and transparent in all of his financial dealings with county budget officials, yet was turned down for early requests for contingency money for this year's election. He says any delay in putting out the latest request for extra cash, which he made on the eve of his departure, was because he had to finalize a year-end audit of his own and square away other office matters.

Bean countered his transparency claim Friday, saying Johnson never provided any detail for his budget beyond numbers for general personnel, capital and operating costs.

In one more odd twist, Johnson claims that Busansky and County Attorney Renee Lee have launched a "surreptitious investigation" of the county's voting machine supplier.

Busansky said she has merely asked the county attorney, who will take over legal duties in the office, to review contractual agreements between the county and vendor Premier Election Solutions.

Hillsborough elections supervisor withdraws request for $2.3-million 12/19/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 4:50pm]

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