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Pasco politics: Tales in the mail

With glossy mailings and catchy phrases, County Commissioner Ted Schrader and challenger John Nicolette are selling voters alternative realities. The one that voters buy will determine who holds the commission post in District 1, which covers east Pasco. The two Republicans will face off in the Aug. 26 primary, where the race essentially will be decided because the victor faces only a write-in candidate in the general election. Schrader and Nicolette have traded more mailings against each other than the candidates in any other Pasco County race this year. More are in the works with less than a month left.

If you believe Nicolette in his four mailings, Schrader has "failed," proving to be a liberal — a dynamite charge in a Republican primary — who raised taxes and let development roll unchecked, clogging roads with traffic. And by the way, Nicolette is the man of "positive change" who will get a grip on traffic and growth.

But some of Nicolette's charges against Schrader don't hold up. County records and, notably, the actual dates of events show Schrader didn't have a role in forgiving $170,000 in fines to a developer for illegally clearing trees, as Nicolette charged.

In fact, Nicolette's grip on the truth has been so loose that he has corrected some misstatements from one mailing to another, such as charging Schrader with raising gas taxes by $2-million. A second mailing clarified that Schrader only tried to raise the tax by that amount.

The sharpness of Nicolette's attacks has some Republicans grimacing.

"I'd prefer it not be that way," Pasco County GOP Chairman Bill Bunting said of Nicolette's tone.

Said Schrader: "In my opinion, he's obviously skewing or bending the truth."

Schrader, who had sent one mailing by late last week, has defended himself and jabbed at Nicolette without mentioning his name. But some of his assertions are also tenuous, such as his charge that developers fund Nicolette's campaign.

And interestingly, neither one mentions his own ties to development. Nicolette, a Tampa firefighter and ranch owner, has slowly sold off land near his ranch for low-intensity, large lot housing. Schrader, a two-term commissioner and citrus grove owner, and his family sold 1,000 acres for developers to build on in 2004.

Nicolette did not return phone messages seeking comment for this story. In e-mails and an interview, campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini of Public Concepts in Tampa said the attacks were legitimate based on Schrader's record, though Pedicini acknowledged he made some miscues.

In a letter Thursday to the St. Petersburg Times rejecting an editorial board interview, Nicolette said the newspaper's coverage has been biased against him.

"For too long, our county has suffered under the strain of high taxes, incredible growth and daily gridlock," Nicolette wrote. "My opponent has been in elected office for 14 years and has done little to solve our toughest problems."

That's eight years on the County Commission — and six years on the city commission for San Antonio.

Schrader's mailing — created with his campaign consultant, former lawmaker Jack Latvala — had a different take: "For Ted Schrader, actions speak louder than words!"

But the missives won't stop. Nicolette dropped another attack mailing last week. Schrader shot a TV ad — and prepared a piece responding to Nicolette.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.

The statement

"Schrader forgave $170,000 in fines to developers for illegally clearing land."

John

Nicolette, in a mailing to voters about Ted Schrader

Our ruling

More than 1,100 trees were illegally cut down for the development of Spanish Oaks apartments in Zephyrhills in 2000. By code, Pasco could have fine any violator up to $155 per tree cut down, totaling more than $170,000.

Instead, county records show, the complex's builder, BDC Inc., paid a $5,000 fine under an order of the now-defunct Pasco code enforcement board.

But the basis for John Nicolette's charge against Schrader quickly falls apart. His mailer cites a July 25, 2001, story in the St. Petersburg Times. But the story ran in the Tampa Tribune, and Ted Schrader isn't mentioned — with good reason, it turns out.

The fine was paid June 16, 2000, according to code enforcement records. The plans for the project, with conditions to replant trees or pay more fines, were stamped approved by the county's Development Review Committee six days later.

That's important, because Ted Schrader was not elected until November 2000. Moreover, the matter never came to the County Commission, according to Pasco records and interviews with three county code and development officials.

That means the charge is not just false, it's ridiculously false, earning our lowest rating: Pants On Fire.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

The statement

"Many politicians talk about standing up to developers and controlling growth. Ted Schrader has actually voted to do so. … Now some developers are funding his political opposition."

Ted Schrader, in a mailing to voters about John Nicolette

Our ruling

Pressed on his record on growth issues over two terms, Ted Schrader fought back to suggest developers are bankrolling opponent John Nicolette.

But a review of campaign records through March shows developers made up a small portion of Nicolette's fundraising — and a bigger portion of Schrader's campaign contributions.

Of the $75,000 that Nicolette received, $1,000 came from donors identified as developers in his campaign finance reports. At least another $11,600 came from people involved in the building industry.

In fact, Schrader received even more from developers and builders. Of the $67,000 that Schrader received, $5,100 came from developers identified on his campaign contribution reports. Another $14,600 came from people associated with building.

Given the small share of donations to Nicolette from developers, the ruling in Schrader's attack is Barely True.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

The statement

"Schrader tried to raise gas taxes by $2-million."

John Nicolette, in a mailing to voters about Ted Schrader

Our ruling

In 2002, the County Commission agreed to add another penny tax on each gallon of gas.

The extra cent amounts to about $1-million annually. It is used for road maintenance and streetlights.

Meeting records show Ted Schrader voted against it on June 18, 2002, but because he sought a bigger tax increase. The same day, he voted for adding the two-cent increase, which would generate $2-million a year.

When that idea failed, he voted against the one-cent hike, saying most of that money raised would be spent outside his east Pasco district.

Based on his vote supporting a two-cent increase, Nicolette's accusation rates True.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

The statement

"Ted led the effort to hire an attorney for our legislative delegation — who helped lower insurance rates by allowing home-owners in West Pasco to opt out of sinkhole coverage."

Ted Schrader, in a mailing to voters

Our ruling

In 2006, Pasco County faced a fervor over soaring insurance premiums caused by sinkhole claims. The County Commission hired a Jacksonville attorney, Timothy Volpe, who successfully helped persuade the state to make sinkhole coverage optional, lowering bills for residents who drop the coverage.

Ted Schrader made the procedural motion at a Sept. 26, 2006, meeting to negotiate a contract with Volpe. Schrader cites that motion to justify his claim.

But Schrader had less of a role bringing Volpe to Pasco than other commission members did.

On Aug. 8, it was Commissioner Pat Mulieri who first brought up Monroe County's success in lowering rates, winning the other members' support to find out why. That research turned up Volpe's success representing Monroe County. Mulieri was quickly supported by Commissioner Jack Mariano — who said he had already talked with Volpe — then other members.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said Mulieri, Mariano and later Commissioner Michael Cox were the commissioners pushing insurance relief efforts the most.

"I don't think any one person should take, nor could they take, credit for solving it," Fasano said.

Given others' earlier work, Schrader's assertion is Half True.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

The statement

"He reduced Pasco County's property tax rate by nearly 37 percent since he took office."

Ted Schrader, in a mailing to voters, about himself

Our ruling

To burnish his re-election credentials, Ted Schrader highlights Pasco's falling property tax rate.

Indeed, the rate dropped 36.6 percent between the 1999-2000 budget and this year's budget. The rate was $8.57 of tax per $1,000 of property for the 1999-2000 budget. It was $5.43 of tax per $1,000 of property in 2007-08.

But Schrader's time line doesn't note that he joined the board in November 2000 — more than a year after the 1999-2000 tax rate was approved.

In fact, the county was already into the 2000-01 budget year when he was elected in November 2000. And the rate was $9.13 of tax per $1,000 of property, set a few months before he joined the commission.

So the tax rate has actually decreased 40.5 percent since he took office.

Schrader said the campaign used the year 2000 as its starting point, not factoring in that the county's budget runs over parts of two calendar years.

"To be honest with you, we really didn't pay attention," Schrader said.

Since we don't have a ruling of "more true than he knows," we rate Schrader's accounting as Mostly True.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

The statement

Schrader "increased spending in Pasco County by 256 percent."

John Nicolette, in a mailing to voters, about Ted Schrader

Our ruling

In a mailing attacking Ted Schrader's record, John Nicolette assailed the big climb in spending since Schrader joined the County Commission.

In the 2000-01 budget — approved two months before Schrader took office — the county spent $476-million. This year, Pasco has a $1.2-billion budget.

While that's a big jump, it's not 256 percent (although when questioned, the Nicolette campaign curiously maintained a budget that is 2.5 times the original is the same thing as a budget that has grown 256 percent).

It's really a 154 percent increase — which means Nicolette's percentage-point math is wrong by 66 percent.

It's important to note the county budget rose with Pasco's growth, providing increased money from impact fees and utility fees, not just property taxes. And a majority of the board approved each budget, not just Schrader.

Though Nicolette's statement of the actual spending increase is incorrect, the underlying truth is that spending jumped a lot. It earns a rating of Half True.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

Pasco politics: Tales in the mail 07/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 28, 2008 5:41pm]
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