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Daniel Ruth

Buddy's blunders too many to count

Sure, maybe to you this seemed like a lot of money, but in the parallel universe known as the planet Buddy Johnson, this was nothing more than a $2.3-million air kiss of incompetence.

Because when you get right down to it, being the Hillsborough supervisor of elections shouldn't be that tough of a job — one vote for A, one vote for B until all the ballots run out.

And thus we arrive at our "Duh!" moment for Johnson, who inherited a perfectly functioning elections office and somehow managed to turn the process of counting into a study of complexity rivaling Homer Simpson contemplating the Hadron nuclear collider.

Because Johnson exhibited all the management skills of Al Pacino plotting a bank heist in Dog Day Afternoon, the supervisor was soundly defeated for re-election by Phyllis Busansky, who right about now has to be thinking she's about to take over the rebuilding of New Orleans.

As he packs up the tools of his trade — the crystal ball, the tarot cards, the chicken bones — to head off to that next big challenge in his life, perhaps as an election consultant to Vladimir Putin, Johnson had one last gesture of delusion to leave the taxpayers of Hillsborough County: a $2.3-million bill for "unanticipated expenses" for the November election, not the least of which in the supervisor's eyes was his "unanticipated " bum's rush from Kennedy Boulevard.

The cost overrun, a third of the office's $6.7-million budget, was explained away by Johnson as the sad, unfortunate consequence of unexpected costs for extended early voting hours, performing two recounts and those always nagging software problems associated with the county's new voting machines.

It's merely a guess, but is it possible just a smidgen of this boondoggle might be traced to the fact Buddy Johnson was in over his head as the supervisor of elections more than Daffy Duck at a cockfight?

By contrast, Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark only posted about $25,000 in additional expenses. But Clark had a distinct competitive advantage over Johnson in that she shows up for work and Johnson phones it in.

Needless to say, the Hillsborough County Commission was a bit miffed to discover they had been stuck with a huge bar tab, as if Johnson had claimed he was merely going to the men's room, while beating it out the door. So it's more than understandable that the commissioners had a keen interest in hearing from the supervisor of elections on just how exactly he managed to take a nose dive into a $2.3-million barrel of red ink.

Alas, when the commission met last week, Johnson suddenly contracted a renewed case of shyness rivaling Harper Lee meets Sly Stone, sending instead his factotum Kathy Harris, who makes $150,000 a year to clean up after her boss' administrative drooling. Commissioner Rose Ferlita was not amused that Johnson would stiff the board and the public, but then again the perpetually dour Ferlita could probably sit through Blazing Saddles and never crack a smile. However Johnson is a public official who had conducted himself in office with all the due diligence of Beetle Bailey, so what else is new?

In the end, the commission indicated they would rather give $2.3-million to Joe Redner to set up a Mons Venus II in the lobby of the County Center than help bail Buddy Johnson out of the pickle of fiduciary phooey he had made for himself. And that was when Johnson opted to punt the $2.3-million to Busansky, pack up his Buddy bobble head doll and catch the A Train to political oblivion.

For his part, Johnson told a local pamphlet that while there was a perception he was a "no-show" at the commission meeting, he wasn't a "no-show at all." Ah, at last! Clarity! Or put another way, while some may think Buddy Johnson was a no-show, in reality, he simply wasn't there.

If you didn't know any better, you would think Johnson was channeling the late, addled Hillsborough State Attorney Harry Lee Coe, who once famously noted after he lost his state-issued gun that while he had no idea where the weapon was, wherever it was it was where it was supposed to be.

Johnson argued even though he is supposed to be in charge of the office, Harris actually knew more than he does about budgets and junk like that so it only made sense for her to be subjected to all the public ridicule and abuse for his $2.3-million dark hole.

And the sad finale to this debacle is by that standard of finding candidates who knew more about stuff than he, Johnson could have sent a shrub to meet with the commission.

Buddy's blunders too many to count 12/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 1:51pm]

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