Aide suing commissioner says another man also made advances

TAMPA — The former aide accusing Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White of sexual harassment says his were not the only advances she faced under his watch.

Alyssa Ogden has testified that on a trip arranged by White to Atlanta within days of accepting his job offer, she was feted by prominent Tampa businessman and newspaper owner C. Blythe Andrews Jr. She was 22.

Andrews, 78, chairman of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper, took Ogden to tony Lenox Square Mall, where he bought her skirts, a blouse, a dress jacket and warmups at a Bebe store. He paid for lunch, then for her stay at a Marriott Hotel.

She says Andrews then asked her to be his "companion," which she understood to mean in a sexual manner.

The Atlanta trip is at the center of Ogden's sexual discrimination lawsuit against White. It is during the April 2007 trip — during her first week on the job — that she says White showed up at her hotel room in the early morning hours asking to sleep in her bed.

No one disputes the trip to Atlanta took place. But who was giving the favors and getting them — and why — are a central dispute in early proceedings of the court case.

Ogden's attorney, Ronald Fraley, said White has given his own deposition in the case that is not a part of the official court record yet. In it, Fraley says White admitted that Andrews offered to reimburse him for the cost of Ogden's plane ticket to Atlanta.

"His testimony is basically, 'I'm just facilitating this meeting of two lovebirds in Atlanta,' " Fraley said. "We say that's complete nonsense. He's the one who showed up at her hotel room that night."

Andrews' attorney says he did nothing inappropriate, but rather demonstrated a kindness he's shown to many young women. Jeraldine Williams Shaw suggested that White may be seeking to divert attention from his own troubles.

A phone call to White was returned by his attorney, Steve Wenzel. He confirmed that White has testified about Andrews offering to reimburse him for Ogden's plane ticket.

But he said there was more to it.

"Mr. White stated that Ms. Ogden asked him if she could go to Atlanta," Wenzel said. "He told her, 'You're grown up and whatever you do is your choice."

He repeated White's previous denials of the accusation that he paid a late night visit to Ogden's hotel room.

Ogden filed suit against White and Hillsborough County after she was fired by the commissioner after seven months on the job, claiming she was dismissed for refusing his repeated sexual advances.

White has said she was fired for poor job performance.

Her depiction of the Atlanta trip is included in federal court submissions by attorneys for Hillsborough County, in which they are seeking Ogden's cell phone records.

Among other assertions attributed to Ogden in court filings, she says White told her that Andrews was picking up the lunch bill to avoid a "paper trail."

Ogden said she and White flew separately to Atlanta to avoid notice by the media.

Attorneys hired by the county have included in the court record statements from Ogden in which she says Andrews contacted her at least twice after the Atlanta trip. She said he phoned her once when she was sick and also helped her find a Realtor.

Ogden has previously told the St. Petersburg Times about meeting Andrews in Atlanta, without going into detail. She has said she received a ride home with Andrews in his recreational vehicle.

Fraley, Ogden's attorney, said Thursday that his client is not the one making an issue of her Atlanta encounter with Andrews. She has only talked about him in response to questions from attorneys representing White and the county.

Members of Andrews' family say he is ill and unable to speak, and could not respond to requests for interviews left at the Florida Sentinel Bulletin and at his home.

He served as editor and publisher of the Sentinel Bulletin after the death of his father, C. Blythe Andrews Sr., in 1977. Andrews Jr. passed the job of running the newspaper on to his son and daughter in 1996.

The Sentinel Bulletin has served the Tampa community since 1945 and is the only African-American newspaper in Florida that owns its own printing equipment and is published twice weekly.

Shaw, Andrews' attorney, said Thursday that there is no evidence of inappropriate conduct involving her client, and theorized that "it may be that attention is being diverted here from the public official who's being sued."

Shaw said Andrews had a legitimate reason for going to Atlanta that weekend. He attended a meeting of the board of trustees of his alma mater, Talladega College.

"Mr. Andrews is a private person," said Shaw. "There wasn't anything sexual. This woman hasn't filed any charges against my client."

As for the allegations that Andrews showered Ogden with gifts, paid for her hotel room and sought to be her "companion," Shaw said such behavior, if true, wasn't inappropriate or out of character for Andrews.

"I have seen him be magnanimous with many young women in a non-sexual way," Shaw said. "The generous tips he gives to waitresses are not a come-on. I've seen him do it many, many times.

"And older people have companions who do things for them, run errands, help them, and the companionship is not necessarily of a sexual nature."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387. Jeff Testerman can be reached at (813) 226-3422 or testerman@sptimes.com.

Aide suing commissioner says another man also made advances 10/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 8, 2008 2:53pm]

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