Ronda Storms, Bob Henriquez to challenge Rob Turner for Hillsborough County property appraiser

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner has gone through three re-elections with barely a scare.

That changed Friday when two political veterans announced challenges to Turner, reeling from his recent admission to the Tampa Bay Times that he sent dozens of pornographic emails to his human resources director.

State Sen. Ronda Storms filed paperwork to run against the embattled appraiser in August's Republican primary, citing the scandal. She was joined by former Democrat state Rep. Bob Henriquez.

Storms' exit from her Senate re-election campaign immediately sparked a frenzy of political jockeying for the seat she is vacating. Former Senate President Tom Lee announced late Friday he will pursue her vacated seat.

During a news conference at the Supervisor of Elections Office near Brandon, Storms said she could not let Turner's actions go unchallenged.

"As I was reading (about) it, I became more and more appalled," said Storms, R-Valrico. "My first response was, 'That can't stand. We can't let that go unrebutted. Somebody has to step up.' "

Henriquez said Turner's fall from grace was lamentable but "the unfortunate events of this week helped encourage me to enter the race."

The two bring name recognition to the contest, representing formidable opposition for a vulnerable Turner, who until now has done little campaigning or fundraising.

Storms is one of the region's best-known politicians thanks to her colorfully outspoken style in advancing conservative causes, particularly in opposing public prurience. She is sure to hound Turner on his pornographic correspondence.

Henriquez spent eight years in the state House ending in 2006 and is known as "coach" for his work with the Tampa Catholic High School football team.

But neither has appraisal training, a background in finance or real estate, or resumes big on experience running large organizations, though Henriquez has some management bona fides.

Henriquez, of Tampa, highlights his work from 2008 to 2011 as the governor-appointed administrator for the Florida Department of Children and Families in Pasco and Pinellas counties. There, he said, he oversaw a staff of hundreds and a multimillion-dollar budget. He notes he also worked as a senior planner for Hillsborough County government and twice had summer jobs in the Property Appraiser's Office as a younger person.

"I'm not an appraiser by trade, but I feel like I have the requisite experience to run the office effectively and efficiently," he said.

Storms' government experience is on the policymaking side. She has served six years in the Senate and was a Hillsborough County commissioner before that.

On Friday, she noted that she has worked closely on legislation that affects property appraisers, including multiple rounds of property tax reform.

"I spent quite a great deal of time on the issue of taxpayer rights and the value adjustment process," Storms said.

The property appraiser is responsible for assigning values to all land and buildings to determine tax bills. Turner's office has a budget of $11.1 million and 132 employees. The job pays $154,523 a year.

A banker by trade, Turner first ran for office in 1996 as a relative newcomer to politics, challenging incumbent Ron Alderman, who was facing criticism for cronyism and visiting bars during work hours. Through his 16 years, Turner trimmed staff and kept his budget level, rarely attracting negative news media attention.

That all changed this week.

He has faced fierce criticism after admitting to the Times that he sent multiple pornographic emails to human resources director Carolyn Filippone from late 2007 to early 2009. He also admitted that he dated Filippone for a brief period in his early days as the appraiser while she worked for him.

The emails were part of a sexual discrimination complaint Filippone filed against Turner that was dismissed in April. In it, she claimed she had dated Turner longer than he says and that she was banished to the appraiser's Brandon satellite office and cut off from her peers after his wife discovered text messages from Filippone to her husband.

Turner said the emails were part of a mutual, consensual exchange. He says most of the rest of the complaint was false, and he used that reason for firing Filippone shortly after the Times interview.

He has been out of the office attending a property appraisers' conference for much of the week and did not return phone calls.

There were already two other candidates before the porn scandal erupted: real estate broker James DeMio and Rob Townsend, who is running without party affiliation.

Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@tampabay.com at (813) 226-3387.

ROB TURNER | Has gone through three elections without a major challenge to his office as Hillsborough property appraiser.

BOB HENRIQUEZ | The state representative, a Democrat, said he was encouraged to run by Turner's "unfortunate events.''

RONDA STORMS | The state senator leaves her re-election campaign after learning of Turner's scandal.

Ronda Storms, Bob Henriquez to challenge Rob Turner for Hillsborough County property appraiser 05/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 26, 2012 12:28am]

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