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Hillsborough property appraiser's education in dispute

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner is asking voters to overlook his recent porn-related legal problems in favor of his credentials, which he says none of his opponents can match.

One of the credentials he has occasionally cited through the years, on top of his 16 years on the job and professional certifications, is having graduated from the University of Virginia School of Bank Management.

One small problem: The University of Virginia has no record of him having attended the school, let alone graduating.

Yet at least twice in candidate questionnaires, Turner, a former banker, has told the Tampa Bay Times he graduated from the prestigious public university.

As early as 2000, when asked about the schools from which he had graduated, Turner responded: "University of Virginia School of Bank Management, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1975," right below his University of Central Florida bachelor's degree.

Last month, asked again to provide his educational background, he responded: "Graduate, School of Bank Management, University of Virginia," again below his UCF degree.

A third-party vendor used by both schools to verify college degrees and enrollment confirmed Turner's graduation from UCF but said school officials could not find records of him attending UVA.

Turner was out of the state Friday, attending a meeting of the International Association of Assessing Officers, of which he is president-elect. He responded to email questions late Friday asking if he had indeed graduated from the University of Virginia, avoiding a request for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy.

"Yes, I do have a diploma/certificate," he wrote. "I have never misrepresented my credentials and reporting by you otherwise would be a misrepresentation of the facts."

Warren Weathers, who is Turner's chief deputy and de facto political consultant, said he understands his boss attended a program at the campus offered through Virginia Bankers Association. Its name: The Virginia Bankers Association School of the Bank Management.

The weeklong school, in which participants enroll for three straight summers, is taught on the University of Virginia's campus. Some, but not all, of its classes are taught by university professors, and students are given home-study problems in between the yearly classroom instruction.

A logo for the school included on a 2010 application included the words "At the University of Virginia" as well as a depiction of one of its iconic buildings, though no UVA professors were listed with its faculty that year.

"It's like a continuing education program," said Jack Lindgren, director of the McIntire Business Institute and professor in the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia. "It's not a degree program."

The association says its school is held "in cooperation with" the McIntire School of Commerce.

"That means they held classes in our school," Lindgren said. "They use our facilities every summer."

A spokesman for the Bankers Association generally confirmed Lindgren's description, without discussing Turner's depiction. The school does not release the names of its participants.

"It is more a continuing education, professional development opportunity offered by the banking association," said Courtney Fleming, the Bankers Association's vice president of education & training/communications. "It's not University of Virginia courses, but there are University of Virginia professors who teach some of the courses."

The Times included the graduation claim in a recent summary of candidates and their backgrounds, using Turner's description word for word. It has also appeared in other publications, from the Lutz News to an item noting his candidacy for vice president of a professional association in its magazine, Fair & Equitable,in 2010.

His opponent in Tuesday's Republican primary, state Sen. Ronda Storms, decided to check it out. After all, Turner has repeatedly said none of his opponents, including a Democrat and two candidates with no party affiliation who are on the November ballot, have the qualifications necessary to do his job.

"He was attacking my credentials," Storms said after finding there was no record of Turner graduating from UVA.

The Times independently verified her findings and looked further.

Asked whether it could be argued that Turner was simply stating his graduation from the School of Bank Management and noting that the school was housed on the University of Virginia campus, Storms called that notion "bogus."

"That's designed to deceive," Storms said. "My opponent has attacked my credentials and it turns out he has fabricated his credentials. His credibility is in shambles.

"Based on that assumption, (my daughter) can say she has a degree from the University of Florida because she once attended a 4-H Congress at the university."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough property appraiser's education in dispute 08/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 11, 2012 1:00am]

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