TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners voted again Wednesday to sue their colleague, Kevin White, in an effort to recoup costs from his sexual discrimination trial last year.
Only this time, he abstained.
The vote was essentially a do-over of the board's decision two weeks ago to sue White to recover some of the $425,000 spent by the county on the lawsuit. White cast the lone opposing vote that time.
Florida law prohibits elected officials from voting on matters in which they stand to gain or lose financially. But nobody pointed that out after White cast his initial dissenting vote.
White, a Democrat, initially said he cast the vote on Jan. 21 because County Attorney Renee Lee hadn't told him he couldn't. The next day, he said he hit the wrong button while casting a vote on a day that had been "a blur" and "daunting." He also asked Lee to arrange for Wednesday's makeup vote.
By then, Chris Ingram, a political activist who typically works on Republican campaigns, had filed a complaint against White with the Florida Commission on Ethics pointing out his apparent conflict.
Lee said she believes Wednesday's action should make the complaint moot, based on past ethics commission rulings. Ingram said he has no intention of withdrawing it.
A federal jury found in August that White sexually discriminated against former aide Alyssa Ogden by firing her in 2007 because she refused his sexual advances. The county was found jointly liable for failing to have adequate remedies for employees facing discrimination.
The county ended up picking up the entire tab, including its legal expenses, Ogden's lawyer bill and a $75,000 damage award.
Community activists showed up Wednesday to urge commissioners to drop the matter.
Dianne Hart, president of the Hillsborough County Democratic Black Caucus, said her group collected more than 1,000 signatures from voters asking the board to rescind its vote to sue him. It's not that the people signing the petition think White did nothing wrong, she said after the meeting.
"What those 1,000 people are saying is he has already been dealt with by the courts," Hart said. "We've got to move on."
White has made it clear he doesn't have the money and that makes the lawsuit a waste of money, she added.
Commissioner Rose Ferlita reiterated that her constituents want the matter pursued.
Before Wednesday's vote, commissioners had to rescind their initial action. That vote was unanimous, with White voting on the largely procedural matter.
Like the initial vote, the do-over authorizes the county to spend up to $25,000 on a lawsuit against White. Any expenditure beyond that must go back to commissioners for approval.
Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or [email protected]