Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Johnson PR man wrote column backing elections supervisor

Buddy Johnson has two foes in his bid for re-election.

Buddy Johnson has two foes in his bid for re-election.

TAMPA — A newspaper opinion piece by a former county communications director suggested Friday that people ought to quit picking on Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson and let him do his job educating voters.

But the author, Mike Foerster, didn't mention that he is not merely a retired longtime government official. He's a consultant being paid $75 an hour by Johnson's office for communications and public relations services under contracts that began almost a year and a half ago.

In addition, before Foerster's column was published in the Tampa Tribune, the newspaper asked Johnson if Foerster still worked for him. Johnson denied it, according to a top editor.

Rosemary Goudreau, the Tribune's editorial page editor, said Friday that the newspaper decided to run Foerster's column, in which he described himself as "director of communications for Hillsborough County for 19 years," after determining Foerster had no relationship with the elections office.

Goudreau said she recalled that Foerster had done some work for Johnson's office and decided to verify whether that connection still existed. When a Tribune staffer called Johnson on Thursday to ask, "the supervisor said (Foerster) was not working for him," Goudreau said.

She said she didn't know Foerster was a still a consultant for Johnson until told by a St. Petersburg Times reporter about a contract extension Foerster signed in December.

"I am dismayed to learn we were misled," Goudreau said.

Goudreau added that Johnson had called back Thursday evening, sometime after saying Foerster didn't work for him and left a message with the Tribune saying he had been "in a family emergency and didn't understand the question." But Goudreau said Johnson didn't correct any information, and Friday, the Tribune published the 240-word Foerster column headlined, "Don't Knock Johnson for Doing His Job."

Johnson's recollection differs.

He says a Tribune staffer called him on his cell phone and asked if Foerster worked for him, and Johnson, just as he was preparing to take another incoming call, answered, "Not as a full-time employee," then hung up. When he called back later to clarify, Johnson says, he left a voice mail that no one answered.

Goudreau, told of Johnson's account, said the Tribune staffer never heard Johnson qualify any answer.

"It was a yes or no question," she said. "He said 'no.' "

Foerster has been a familiar face in the elections office recently.

Foerster has met with Johnson personally at least 13 times this year on election and media matters, according to Foerster's billings. Foerster has put in more than 41 hours as consultant and billed the elections supervisor for $3,093.75 in 2008.

He also has authored at least two letters to the editor on Johnson's behalf, the billings show.

But the column Foerster wrote in the Tribune suggesting the newspaper get off Johnson's back was not one of them, Foerster said Friday, explaining that he never talked to Johnson about it and had no plans to bill for the column's preparation.

"I just wrote this as a letter to the editor," Foerster said, because of the "mean-spirited treatment" of Johnson by the newspaper's editorial board.

Foerster also said he had called the Tribune to demand a correction on a March 25 Tribune editorial. In it, the newspaper scolded Johnson for using "government resources to support political ambitions" but erred in listing Jennifer Marks as a staffer of outside consultant Schiffino Lee, an ad agency hired by Johnson.

Marks serves as the $70,000-a-year chief deputy of communications, according to her own voice mail greeting, but was hired for the job title manager of voter registration, according to payroll records.

Johnson, a Republican, is a former three-term state representative and co-founder of Buddy Freddy's restaurant. He was appointed elections supervisor in 2003, won election in 2004 and is being challenged by Democrats Phyllis Busansky and Lee Nelson for re-election this year.

Jeff Testerman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3422.

Johnson PR man wrote column backing elections supervisor 03/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 4:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Blake High grad Taylor Trensch lands lead role in 'Dear Evan Hansen' on Broadway


    For those who saw Taylor Trensch grow up in Tampa, his rise from promising student to star is heartwarming and entirely predictable. In January, Trensch, 28, will be moving into the title role of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, one of the hottest tickets in theater.

    Taylor Trensch, a 2007 Blake High graduate, will play the title role in Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen. Courtesy of Frank Trensch.
  2. Editorial: When protest leads to understanding


    The protests against racial injustice by professional athletes across the country include examples of communities where it has not been handled well. And then there is the example set in Tampa Bay.

  3. Why it's too early to give up on the Bucs


    Don't panic. It's not too late for the Bucs.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) and wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrate after the defense recovered a fumble during the second half of an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  4. Backlog of immigration cases under Trump stymies immigrants in Florida


    It was supposed to be a routine green card renewal for a Thai woman who has called Central Florida home for years.

    Immigration lawyers such as Gerald P. Seipp of Clearwater worry that their clients' circumstances will change with long delays in their immigration court appeals, hurting their chances of staying in the country. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. New York town approves Legoland proposal


    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]