Hillsborough Commissioner White irate over Les Miller's TV time

TAMPA — Last month, Hillsborough County's public affairs television producers taped an interview with former state Sen. Les Miller for a 30-minute program on blacks in politics.

The show was supposed to air last week in advance of the county's Black Heritage Celebration on Feb. 13. But it didn't. And it likely never will.

Instead, according to station manager Tammy Peralta, the county spent $576 to tape a new segment Tuesday featuring County Commissioner Kevin White, who is being challenged by Miller in the Democratic primary for the District 3 commission seat in 2010.

The switch came after White sent an angry e-mail Feb. 4 to Joyce Russell, Hillsborough County's African-American liaison and the woman who booked Miller for the show.

White wrote that he found it "reprehensible and personally offensive" that he hadn't been asked to be on the program.

"At what point does it dawn on you to ask the ONLY African American elected official on the (County Commission), who also happens to be a Black in Politics, and who also went to the inauguration and was intimately involved in the 2008 presidential process," he asked.

Just 30 minutes earlier, Russell had sent White a contrite e-mail, responding to a telephone call from him.

In it she said county cable television producers asked her to invite black Hillsborough County School Board member Doretha Edgecomb onto the program. But Edgecomb had a scheduling conflict.

So, Russell said, she tried state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, Rep. Betty Reed and Tampa City Council member and former County Commissioner Tom Scott.

All had other commitments.

Finally, Russell called Miller, who serves with her on an advisory committee at the University of South Florida. And he agreed.

It was taped Jan. 22, about a week before Miller announced plans to run against White for his commission seat.

"I had no knowledge of him currently running for any office," Russell wrote in her e-mail to White. "I sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding."

White fired back that he was particularly offended after reading "the litany of individuals you named in this e-mail," adding "there is ABSOLUTELY no excuse that you can give me to explain your actions."

White did not return calls for comment.

Edith Stewart, the county's public affairs director who oversees the television station, insists White's ire had nothing to do with yanking the Miller segment.

She said she simply held the program because producers didn't review with her in advance who would be on the show, as they are supposed to do.

"The process wasn't followed," she said, noting she has held other programs for the same reason. "My focus is to be sure they are adhering to the mission of the station, which is to provide information to Hillsborough citizens about the services offered by their county government."

Stewart later approved taping a program with White, along with two other guests, community activist Mary Alice Dorsett and former FAMU president Walter Smith.

Peralta said that show is scheduled to air two or three times daily for a week starting Feb. 26. But Stewart said that might not happen either.

First she wants the county attorney to review whether featuring either candidate raises issues of fair access to publicly funded television.

County Attorney Renee Lee said she didn't know anything about the matter.

"She certainly didn't route that request through me," she said. "This is the first time I'm hearing about it."

Miller, who has a copy of the program showcasing his political career, said he was surprised to learn it might not be aired.

"I had heard some rumblings about Kevin being upset about it, but I never thought it was going to get to the point where they would pull the show. That's quite disappointing and quite interesting that would happen," he said.

Miller said Russell chose him for the segment because he is the only African-American who has served as the Democratic leader in both the state House and state Senate.

"She said, 'You made history and we want to talk to you about African-American politics,' " Miller said. "I thought it was a great show."

Staff writer Jeff Testerman contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Hillsborough Commissioner White irate over Les Miller's TV time 02/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 4:04pm]

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