State Sen. Greg Evers "was actively advocating" on behalf of a billboard company that had been talking about hiring his wife when he intervened with the state Department of Transportation about cutting down 2,000 trees, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.
The Leon County grand jury didn't indict anyone, but found Evers' intervention enabled Bill Salter Advertising to "secure permits by circumventing the law."
Evers, R-Baker, said the report vindicated him: "A jury of my peers found I didn't do anything wrong."
In 2009, Salter wanted DOT permits to cut down more than 2,000 trees along Interstate 10. Salter did not want to pay the normal fee, so executive David McCurdy sought Evers' help.
The grand jury noted that Evers and McCurdy went to high school together and that Evers' wife "was consulted by Salter Advertising about representing the company."
Evers said McCurdy was two or three years behind him in school and said his wife was never hired nor paid by Salter.
He said "a bunch of things were misrepresented to me" by Salter.
Evers said he only asked DOT officials to return McCurdy's phone calls.
The jury found the DOT "failed to collect between $1 million and $4 million in mitigation fees."
Salter Advertising could not be reached for comment.
Sharpe watching redistricting
Whispers are growing louder that Republican Mark Sharpe may press the eject button on his challenge to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, in the District 11 congressional campaign.
Sharpe said he's still firmly in the race. But he acknowledged that he's closely following the redistricting debate in Tallahassee to see how boundaries are redrawn. And signs so far point to the district, which takes in much of Tampa but also Democrat-tilted parts of southern St. Petersburg and Manatee County, remaining much like it is. That means, tilted in favor of Democrats.
"Right now I'm just basically waiting to see the maps," Sharpe said. "I'm not pulling the plug. At the same time, we've tried to be clear that we want a competitive district. So I'm just waiting to see what the Legislature gives us."
While those maps will become clearer in coming weeks, potential court challenges could drag out the process.
Federal Elections Commission records show Castor easily outpacing Sharpe in raising campaign money — she has a better than 5-to-1 edge, though the latest reports available were only through September. Sharpe said that will improve if new district boundaries make the campaign a fairer fight. He said he's not looking for a Republican majority of registered voters, just a close enough split to give him a reasonable shot.
Sharpe currently has more than two years left on his term as a Hillsborough County commissioner and could elect to continue in the post. Even if he stays in the race and loses, that's still an option.
Bill gives parents more power
A controversial bill that would let parents demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools won the approval of two education committees Tuesday.
Under the so-called parent trigger proposal, a majority of parents could petition to have the principal replaced, or even have a charter school operator take over.
If the bill were to pass, 51 percent of parents at a long struggling school could petition the school district for dramatic changes. Among the options: turning the school into a privately run, publicly financed charter school or contracting with an outside management company.
Times/Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.