TAMPA — State Sen. Ronda Storms, seeking to unseat Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner and run the $11 million agency in the wake of his porn-sending scandal, has had some property challenges of her own.
Storms was part owner of a $685,000 Longboat Key waterfront condominium that faced a foreclosure action in 2009. The senator, her husband, a brother-in-law and his wife managed to unload the condo in a short sale six months later for less than half the original purchase price — or $320,000.
Turner said in a written response to questions that the Storms family found itself in a situation faced by many in recent years.
"However," he wrote, "leading the Property Appraiser's Office requires a high level of fiscal responsibility, expertise and discipline to ensure proper administration of the $11-million budget funded by taxpayer dollars."
In another part of the same interview, he noted Storms' misspelling of the office she is seeking as "property apprais" on a candidate filing form. The filing looks as though she may have gotten distracted, because she spelled the office correctly in other paperwork.
Storms dismissed the broader assessment in an interview Monday. She jumped into the property appraiser race after the Tampa Bay Times reported that Turner admitted sending pornographic emails to his former human resources director, whom he once dated and has since fired.
Turner has said his emails to Carolyn Filippone were part of a consensual exchange during off-work hours using their own equipment and that his conduct was a personal mistake.
He has since faced questions about how often he is out of the office traveling on behalf of an international assessor's organization, including a recent trip to China.
Those details are relevant, said Storms, who faces Turner in the Aug. 14 Republican primary.
"Whether I will be in the office. Whether I will be in China. Whether or not I have engaged in an improper relationship with my human resource director.
"I understand that my opponent is going to use everything at his disposal because he's in a very difficult position," Storms said. "I certainly do not think (a foreclosure action) is related to being the property appraiser."
Manatee County records show the Storms family members bought the 760-square-foot, second-floor unit in the two-story Silver Sands in March 2005. They took on a $525,000 adjustable-rate rate mortgage and a home equity line of credit for up to $75,000.
Images show a modest complex surrounding a pool in what resembles a motel.
"It was nothing fancy," Storms said.
Under terms of the mortgages, the condo was to be for their personal use only. It could not be used as a rental property. Storms included a half-stake in the condo as an asset in annual state-required financial disclosure forms in both 2006 and 2007, though not afterward.
In January 2009, lender Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co. filed notice that it intended to foreclose on the property after not having received loan payments since the prior August.
Storms said she and her family members attempted to negotiate with the bank by seeking to have the mortgage terms changed so that they could rent out the unit. But she said bank officials never responded to their request.
"As I understand it, we did everything we could do to make sure the bank was made whole," she said.
The family was able to execute the short sale in June 2009. The bank dismissed its lawsuit.
Storms said her family was caught in a situation similar to many others.
They invested at a time when values seemed to be ever rising, then the market crashed, which hurt her family, like others. Her husband runs a landscaping business that has seen business decline as construction of new homes stalled.
"It gave me a very good understanding as to what was happening in the bad economy as it related to the mortgage industry and the way the banks dealt with their debtors," Storms said.
She and her husband own a primary residence in Valrico and adjacent, undeveloped land.
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Mark Puente contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.