Scott Estes is one chamber president who's not afraid to speak his mind — in all caps.
The head of the New Tampa Chamber of Commerce has accused a Tampa Palms attorney of paying his wife with money collected to oppose a city bridge.
The allegation surfaced, not over drinks, but in the Sept. 11 edition of the New Tampa Neighborhood News, a free paper mailed to area homes. New Tampans have been buzzing about the accusation ever since. They're sending angry e-mails to the paper and sympathetic ones to Tampa Palms attorney Warren Dixon, who denies the allegation and says he and his wife have been maligned.
The fracas concerns a planned bridge that would link New Tampa Boulevard to Commerce Park Boulevard, allowing drivers to go from northern New Tampa into Tampa Palms without using Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Dixon, his wife, Andrea Braboy, and West Meadows homeowner Evelyn Romano challenged the city's wetlands permit in what has become a prolonged legal battle involving the county Environmental Protection Commission. The three say the bridge is not needed and will create safety hazards and environmental damage.
After a hearing officer dismissed Dixon and Braboy as parties, Dixon stayed on as Romano's pro bono attorney. He tried to use Braboy, a defense consultant, as an expert witness, but she was not accepted.
Dixon did enlist an engineer to testify, he told neighbors at a recent meeting in which he asked for donations to help defray expenses.
"So basically, this donated money was to go to his wife and a guy that lives in a multimillion-dollar neighborhood in South Tampa?" Estes wrote.
But Estes said Tuesday that he never meant to disparage Dixon or Braboy.
The essay, which filled close to two pages, ended with a disclaimer from editor Gary Nager, a self-described supporter of the bridge who maintained he and Estes never discussed the issue. Nager said the original essay was even more critical of Dixon. "I worked with him to tone it down," he said.
Still, it hit a nerve. "Sickening" and "disgusting," wrote Iris Poynor of Tampa Palms.
Marshall Adams of West Meadows told Dixon, "my trust and faith in both you and your wife is complete and intact."
Tampa Palms Community Development District consultant Maggie Wilson found the whole matter unseemly for someone in Estes' position. "A fledgling chamber, trying to be taken seriously, is not well served by sophomoric outbursts by its members, never mind its leadership," she wrote.
Dixon said his wife has not been paid anything for her help in analyzing and critiquing traffic models. "In fact, she has been, from her own earnings, one of the major financial contributors paying for the expenses of this lawsuit," he wrote in a widely circulated e-mail.
But that's just one issue of many. Estes also disputed many of Dixon's positions about the bridge, particularly on the issue of school traffic across Bruce B. Downs. He didn't have a strong opinion on the matter, he wrote, until he heard Dixon speak at the meeting. And he feels too much attention is being given to those who oppose the bridge, when many in New Tampa want to see it built.
"I am now very much in favor of the bridge," Estes wrote, "but most important is that I am against your frivolous lawsuit."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 624-2739.