Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Hillsborough property appraiser often out of office

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner is out of the office more often than he has previously acknowledged.

By the end of this year, he will have missed at least 88 work days since the beginning of 2011 — about four month's worth — traveling on behalf of his professional association, teaching classes or attending conferences.

That's assuming he attends the meetings he has listed on his calendar, visited Jamaica last month as his professional association has written and continues with plans to speak at a conference in Brazil. He recently returned from China after 10 days out of the office, according to an email invite for a re-election campaign fundraiser Wednesday.

Turner wouldn't confirm details of those trips in a written response to questions, the only way he has fielded media calls since last month, when he admitted sending porn to his former human resources director.

"The reality is that I attend meetings and functions (both within the office and outside events) which are not listed on my calendar (nor is it required) and also have events listed which I do not actually attend," Turner said. "If I decide to make those trips, I will not be out of the office any additional days."

He said he has only confirmed his attendance at events that will have him out of the office 14 days for the remainder of the year, but did not elaborate. He also said he does not take personal vacations and attends dozens of community meetings during non-work hours and on weekends. He or his association pick up many of the expenses.

Constitutional officers, such as Turner, do not fill out timecards or have prescribed allotments of vacation time.

According to the most recent newsletter from the International Association of Assessing Officers, of which Turner is president-elect, he already attended a conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica, last month. His calendar lists the trip as an 8 to 8:30 a.m. May 3 "IPTI-RICS event," short, according to the newsletter, for International Property Tax Institute and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

In the newsletter, current IAAO president Debra Asbury writes that her group's executive board has confirmed that Turner will attend IPTI's annual conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, later this summer. His calendar carries no notation of the trip.

Asbury did not return a phone call for comment.

Turner's opponent in the Aug. 14 Republican primary, state Sen. Ronda Storms, said information about his travels confirms her belief that he is more interested in himself than serving Hillsborough County residents. She said this as she recounted a story about Turner refusing to meet with a resident who had concerns about her assessment.

"He can go galavanting around the world but won't meet with a constituent," Storms said.

Turner has been Hillsborough's property appraiser for 16 years, rarely attracting attention after beating a scandal-plagued predecessor caught visiting bars during work hours. Then came Turner's admission to the Tampa Bay Times last month that he sent pornographic emails to a subordinate he once dated.

He has said it was part of a mutual exchange that took place during non-work hours using personal equipment.

The former human resources director, Carolyn Filippone, was fired by Turner as the Times was preparing a story about a discrimination claim she filed against him that was dismissed in April. It featured dozens of samples of pornographic emails she said Turner sent her as part of what she called an unwanted pattern of advances aimed at rekindling a romance.

Those allegations led to scrutiny elsewhere. The Times has previously written that Turner had been out of the office for nine weeks in the past 17 months.

That didn't include four separate weeklong continuing education courses Turner taught in Tampa and Miami-Dade County.

They show up on his calendar as either vacation time, just a location (such as Miami-Dade) or not at all.

Miami-Dade Deputy Property Appraiser Lazaro Solis said Turner has taught three classes for his office's employees since 2010, two in 2011. He was paid $3,500 each time, Solis said.

Solis said it is common practice for people in Turner's position to teach assessing classes.

"To us, he was just another instructor on the list," Solis said.

The Department of Revenue has records showing Turner taught a weeklong IAAO course in October 2011 and was paid $2,500. By taking the classes, certain employees of the property appraiser qualify for $2,000 in additional pay.

Hillsborough Community College records show Turner was paid $2,200 for a class he taught there in March.

He was paid through a corporation he founded, Assessment Services Inc. His most recent financial disclosure report filed earlier this month and covering 2011 lists the corporation as a source of income.

The disclosure form says he made less than $1,000, and Turner said that's true when expenses such as travel, hotels and food costs are factored. Government agencies report he made a combined gross income of $9,500 teaching three courses.

"As I suspect with many in the education field, the income is not the driving force behind teaching," Turner said.

His disclosure form covering 2010 does not list Assessment Services Inc. as a source of income. The Department of Revenue and Miami-Dade report having paid Turner or his company a combined $6,000 to teach courses.

He said he would review the disclosure form to determine if an amendment is necessary.

Turner emphasized that the work of his office is complex and ever changing. He said his office is considered a model across the state in large part because of its work to stay on top of those changes.

"I do not think you truly appreciate the complexity of this office and what it takes to keep up with issues confronting this office," he said. "The IAAO is the primary source of knowledge for all of these mass appraisal techniques and it takes a fair amount of education and training in order to ensure we are applying these techniques properly."

Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.

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