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A Times Editorial

Johnson's abuses still mounting

The revelations keep coming: Lost votes. Millions of dollars unaccounted for. Double-dipping for travel. Tax money for political purposes. The public is getting a clearer picture, mere weeks after removing him from office, of the rogue operation Buddy Johnson ran in five years as Hillsborough County's elections supervisor. Consider the latest:

• The new supervisor, Phyllis Busansky, who beat Johnson in November, reported this month that elections employees found 440 uncounted ballots. Coming more than two months after Election Day, the discovery added to the voting irregularities and technical breakdowns that marked Johnson's tenure. It was the second case of mislaid ballots being found after the polls closed Nov. 4. A candidate who lost a Temple Terrace City Council race by 84 votes said he may contest the election results, which were certified before the ballots were found.

But the Times reported this week that Johnson's staff knew about the missing ballots a month earlier than previously disclosed, and that a worker was searching for the missing ballots before the results were certified. What's more, the discovery came the week of Dec. 12, just days before Johnson's general counsel appeared before Hillsborough County commissioners seeking $2.3 million in emergency funds for "unanticipated" expenses.

• Commissioners rejected the bailout request, but records and a pending audit show millions in questionable expenditures. Johnson used federal get-out-the-vote money to advertise on TV, radio and in newspapers in the runup to his re-election campaign. He spent three times more on "voter education" than Orange, Pinellas, Sarasota and Duval counties, and $1.3 million on ads alone. Among his expenses: $23,000 for 100,000 pens with his name on them and a media blitz that splashed his name and face across the county.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning should look into this abuse. As the state's top elections official, he needs to protect other Florida counties against any federal reprisals.

• In one of his last acts as supervisor, Johnson filed for $4,100 in mileage costs. But records show he has already been reimbursed for hundreds of those miles. He double-billed for reimbursements and sought mileage for local trips on days he was out of town. In one case, Johnson filed mileage for a trip to Miami even though he had already been reimbursed for flying there. This makes his entire reimbursement request suspect.

State and federal authorities need to investigate Johnson's handling of the missing ballots and his apparent politicking at the taxpayers' expense. County taxpayers also could be facing millions of additional dollars in outstanding bills. The extent of the damage keeps growing, and it is time Johnson was held responsible for his actions.

Johnson's abuses still mounting 01/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 7:32pm]
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