Monday, June 25, 2018
Editorials

Liaison, porn, firing are Rob Turner's cue to leave

It was inappropriate for Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner to date a subordinate, and it was inexcusable for him to send her pornographic email over an extended period. Turner's decision Monday to fire the employee after she waged a protracted discrimination case only raises further questions about his lack of judgment. Turner should decline to seek re-election this year and clear the way for fresh leadership.

Turner acknowledged to the Tampa Bay Times Monday that he dated the employee, Carolyn Filippone, for a period between 2000 and 2002. Filippone had previously worked with Turner at NationsBank, and she moved to the appraiser's office six months after Turner first won election in 1996. By 2003, she had advanced from an $18-an-hour technician to the director of human resources and training. At the time of her firing, she earned $98,000 a year. Turner said the relationship occurred between marriages, and that the two continued to socialize as friends over the past 10 years.

The two sides offer different stories about the nature and the length of the relationship, but the issue here is the propriety of a boss dating a subordinate. Turner acknowledges he made a mistake. But he wants to have it both ways by pointing out that his office had no anti-nepotism policy at the time that banned dating between employees and their superiors. Common sense should tell any manager today that such a relationship is full of legal and ethical pitfalls, and it can undermine morale and the normal function of any office. It is human resources, after all, where employees go to address complaints about favoritism and other workplace issues. Turner shouldn't need a policy for him to exercise the sound judgment that voters expect of any public official.

The exchange of pornographic emails over at least a two-year period in the late 2000s also shows that Turner's misconduct was not a one-time mistake. His insistence that the exchanges were mutual and consensual is beside the point; if anything, that only shows how the relationship between the two compromised Filippone's ability to maintain a proper working environment at the public agency. And Turner's firing of her Monday raises other troubling questions. He said he acted after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dismissed Filippone's claims that Turner retaliated when the relationship went bad. The public is left with a he-said, she-said dispute that threatens to drag the 133-person office into a costly, divisive legal case.

Turner, 60, turned around an office that under Ron Alderman was known for its incompetence and patronage. He brought on professionals and employed new technology to take more of the guesswork out of the appraisal process. But Turner has damaged his credibility with this episode — even with only half of the story being public.

Turner should recognize that running for a fifth term under this cloud threatens the operation he has worked for 16 years to build. While the field of candidates for the job is thin with only two weeks until the qualifying deadline, his withdrawal might prompt some stronger candidates to come forward. Then the candidates could focus on policy differences, not personal failures. In these tough times, especially, that's what voters deserve.

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