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Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White says aide's ineptitude, not her sexual rebuffs, led to firing

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White offered a blistering job critique Wednesday of the former aide accusing him of sexual discrimination.

White said that after he hired her in April 2007, Alyssa Ogden quickly showed herself to be incompetent at the most basic tasks. And despite multiple attempts at counseling, including a critical written evaluation after six months, she failed to show improvement.

So, reluctantly, he decided to fire her, he said.

"I wanted to give her every opportunity to improve herself and improve the office," White testified Wednesday at his civil trial. "I finally just had to make an executive decision and do the best for the office and for the taxpayers."

Ogden, then 22, has accused White of repeatedly making sexual advances toward her during her brief stint in his office. She claims in her suit that she was fired because she refused him.

White, 44, a Democrat, denied each line-item accusation Wednesday while underscoring his own explanation for why Ogden was fired.

He said Ogden never learned the boundaries of his commission district, which takes in much of central and east Tampa. That despite the presence of a large district map hanging in his office and her boast of being a quick study during her job interview.

He said Ogden failed to grasp the major issues confronting White's constituents and failed to get to know the major players in the community. She once asked where 40th Street was, though the widening of one of the major arteries in his district is one of its biggest and longest running public works projects, White said.

Letters written by Ogden on his behalf routinely had to be rewritten because of grammatical errors, White said. She regularly confused "their" and "they're," "we're" and "were," for instance.

And she was not fluent in Spanish, as she asserted when White hired her.

"I speak more Spanish than she does," White said.

White's testimony also revisited a controversial trip to Atlanta that is a central plank in Ogden's suit, and a major focus of the civil trial that began Monday. She has accused White of luring her to Atlanta four days into the job under the guise of business, then seeking to share her hotel bed.

White has described the trip as a "boys' weekend," in which he planned to catch up with C. Blythe Andrews Jr., owner of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper, and his uncle, Andre Moses White. He claims it was Ogden who asked to go, and Andrews who offered to reimburse White if he booked her flight.

White had introduced the two a little more than a week earlier, and he claims Andrews, then 77, was instantly smitten.

White said Wednesday he had misgivings about the idea and said as much to Andrews. But since Ogden seemed eager to go, he relented to a man whose newspaper's endorsements are important to local black political hopefuls. The Florida Sentinel Bulletin largely chronicles issues of importance to the black community.

White now calls it a mistake "I regret to this day."

He said that during a luncheon in Atlanta that he witnessed Andrews pull a large wad of money from his right front pocket and give it to Ogden. He said that Andrews later spent between $800 and $1,200 additional on clothes for her during a trip to the mall.

White got a colorful assist on the witness stand from his father, Gerald White, a former restaurateur. Gerald White said that he saw on three occasions Andrews handing Ogden cash in amounts ranging from $250 to $300.

That was not unusual, the elder White said. He said he witnessed Andrews hand out similarly large sums of cash to young waitresses he fancied as a frequent patron of the former Moses White & Sons Bar-B-Que restaurant Gerald White ran in Ybor City.

Gerald White said he received a call from his brother, Andre Moses White, the day his son and Ogden caught a ride home from Atlanta with Andrews.

He said the brother confirmed that White had spent the night at his house on the night Ogden said the commissioner tried to share her hotel bed. And he said he recounted how Andrews lavished Ogden with money and clothes in the hope of romantic conquest.

"He said, 'She made a fool of that old man,' " Gerald White said of his brother, describing how Ogden took Andrews' gifts with no intention of gratifying him.

But Andre White has said under oath that Kevin White did not stay with him that night.

Gerald White said he is saying that because Andre has had business interests with Andrews, with whom he is best friends, and he was covering up for him.

"He told the biggest lie that's ever been told," Gerald White said of his brother.

Andrews has denied any romnatic interest in Ogden, and his attorney, Barry Cohen, said Wednesday's testimony only shows that "blood is thicker than water.''

Kevin White got to detail much of his own defense Wednesday, but committed a gaffe that could come back to haunt him.

His attorney, Matt Fenton, had asked him whether any of Ogden's allegations are true. White said no, but added that they have hurt his wife and children and besmirched a career in which he has been a law-abiding citizen.

"I have never ever been accused of even spitting on the sidewalk as far as these types of allegations are concerned," he said.

White, in fact, previously agreed to settle an elections law complaint that he charged his 2006 political campaign account for $6,100 worth of tailored Italian suits and listed the payments as consulting fees paid to a fictitious company.

U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara had previously prohibited Ogden's lawyer, Ron Fraley, from bringing that up. He said it was not germane to a sexual discrimination case.

But Lazzara said White may have opened a window that allows the topic to be broached by making his "law-abiding" boast Wednesday. He'll decide today in what could be a critical ruling.

In pretrial testimony, Fraley asked White whether he was attempting to deceive people who might review his campaign purchase.

"I mean, were you hoping when you wrote those checks to Robbins Consulting, that if someone looked at the checks they wouldn't connect that with the purchase of clothes?"

"Yes," White responded.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Attorney Matt Fenton asked Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White whether any of the sexual harassment allegations he is facing in trial this week are true before White gave a lengthy defense of his reputation. A story published Thursday indicated that White was asked a different question.

Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin White says aide's ineptitude, not her sexual rebuffs, led to firing 08/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2009 6:54pm]

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