Friday, December 15, 2017
Politics

Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner: I won't quit over porn admission

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner says he has no intention of letting revelations that he sent pornography to an underling end his political career like other public figures before him.

He said Tuesday he plans to continue running for re-election this year and has no plans to bow out after 16 years in office.

"I have made it clear that I take full responsibility for a personal mistake that has had frankly more of an impact on my wife and my family," Turner said. "I'm hoping the residents of Hillsborough County will offer forgiveness for a personal mistake I have made and will recognize the outstanding service this office has provided."

Several political observers say the admission is likely to dog him through the political season.

Turner, 60, a Republican, acknowledged in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times that he sent dozens of pornographic emails to his human resources director, whom he previously dated while she was his employee. On Monday, he fired the woman, Carolyn Filippone, saying a sexual discrimination claim she filed based in part on those emails was false.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a dismissal notice in April, saying it was unable to determine if a violation of statutes occurred. Turner touted the dismissal as vindication, saying that the emails were a mutual exchange between him and Filippone on private time and that her complaint included allegations that were not true.

Filippone did not return calls seeking comment.

The news was the talk of political and civic circles, with Turner's conduct drawing visceral reactions from many sectors. The story elicited comparisons with Anthony Weiner, the former Democratic congressman from New York, who resigned last year after he sent lurid pictures of himself to women on Facebook and Twitter.

East Hillsborough County Republican businessman Sam Rashid, a prominent backer of political campaigns, urged Turner to resign.

"This guy would be fired in any conventional job," said Rashid, who supported Turner's first run for office in 1996. "If he doesn't quit, he'll be a complete embarrassment to his party and to local politicians in his party."

Rashid added he'll be disappointed if the local party doesn't ask Turner to quit.

Hillsborough Republican Party chairman Art Wood said he would like to let the situation cool before commenting, considering Turner and his wife, Donna, are friends.

April Schiff, another Republican political consultant, noted that qualifying for this fall's elections occurs next month. So there's plenty of time for another challenger to get in the race.

Turner could face a backlash from women voters in particular, said Schiff, who worked on Turner's 2004 re-election campaign.

"I think it's absolutely inappropriate for a number of reasons," she said of Turner's pornographic communication. "No. 1, she works for him. No. 2, he's a married man. Women are serious voters. I find this is offensive and disrespectful."

Turner, who is seeking a fifth term in the $154,523 job, currently is facing challenges from Democrat James DeMio and Rob Townsend, who is running without party affiliation. Turner easily beat Townsend, then running as a Republican, four years ago. DeMio just announced his candidacy, so its difficult to know if he could mount a serious bid.

DeMio said that it's a long time until November. He said he'd prefer to talk about issues affecting the office, accusing Turner of being quick to raise values on homes when times were booming and slow to lower them when the real estate market tanked.

"That's what I'll focus on," he said.

The appraiser assigns values to properties throughout Hillsborough County so other government agencies can determine how much their owners should pay in taxes each year.

Turner entered office in 1996 as a relative newcomer, knocking off two-term Democrat Ron Alderman. Alderman faced accusation of cronyism and bar-hopping during working hours.

By contrast, Turner has elicited little scrutiny until the discrimination claim. He boasts that he has sharply reduced his workforce and kept spending level while improving service.

In his interview with the Times, Turner acknowledged dating Filippone for a little more than a year, starting around the time his first term and a previous marriage ended. While he did not directly supervise her, he signed off on raises and promotions that saw her climb from a training technician to the director of human resources and customer service making $98,000.

Filippone said in her complaint that she dated Turner off and on until 2006. She claims he tried to rekindle the relationship, in part by sending her dozens of pornographic emails from late 2007 to early 2009.

Turner had remarried by that time and Filippone, who is single, said she was banished to a Brandon satellite office and cut off from contact with her boss and peers after Turner's wife discovered some texts from her.

Turner admitted sending more than 40 separate emails containing graphic images or links to porn videos and galleries. But he said Filippone is wrong about almost everything else, by suggesting he alone sent porn when she was communicating in kind, by exaggerating the length of their relationship and by claiming any form of retaliation.

"I'm not ducking my personal mistake," he said. "At the same time, I can say in absolute terms that it has not affected the outstanding services by this office."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.

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