Monday, January 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Bad start for Hillsborough elections supervisor

Craig Latimer cleaned up the Hillsborough County elections office after an inept predecessor, Buddy Johnson, turned it into a handmade re-election machine. But that doesn't excuse Latimer for saying one thing and doing another when it came to hitting up his future employees for campaign contributions. This is a bad start for the first-term supervisor and a lesson worth remembering.

Latimer said last fall in the run-up to the general election in November that he did not ask his co-workers to contribute to his campaign for supervisor. At the time, he was the office's chief of staff. But documents obtained this week by the Tampa Bay Times contradict that assertion. A September 2011 memo from Peg Reese, his campaign coordinator (and current chief of staff) was directed to six high-level office employees labeled as "campaign core team members." She urged them to consider making the $500 maximum contribution by the campaign finance reporting deadline "so we can achieve our goal." In an email the following month, Latimer piggybacked off that request by asking the same employees to provide the names and addresses of 10 friends who might contribute. "Encourage them to donate to your future," he wrote. The employees and their families would donate $7,250 of the $125,800 Latimer raised during the campaign.

Latimer told the Times this week that he made no blanket request for contributions from the office's employees, adding that the October 2011 email was directed to those who early in the campaign had volunteered to take part. But that doesn't entirely square with his insistence a year later, in October 2012, that he had "certainly never solicited any contributions from any employees in here." And it doesn't matter whether the employees were volunteers or not. They were subordinates first. Asking them to throw the net for campaign contributions only further muddied the lines between their day jobs and the campaign. And describing the group as "core team members" could send the wrong message about what it takes to impress the boss, especially in a small operation like the 35-employee elections office.

Latimer said he recognizes the concerns and is hopeful that the episode does not detract from the improvements he has made both as supervisor and as the office's No. 2 in recent years. He can recover by refraining from soliciting or having anyone from his campaign solicit donations from the staff. This office serves a unique role in local government, and its employees should build a higher wall between themselves and the elections process.

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