A Times Editorial

Not a dime to defend White

Kevin White has disgraced his community from almost the moment he took elected office. A federal jury's finding last week that the Hillsborough County commissioner fired an aide for refusing his repeated sexual advances is the latest shame he has brought to his name, his office and his political career.

The county should not spend another dime of public money defending White. To the contrary, it should seek to have White reimburse the taxpayer money spent defending a lawsuit unrelated to his official duties. White also needs to resign. Especially in these tough economic times, the county's poorest neighborhoods need a commissioner who has at least a shred of credibility.

White fired his aide, Alyssa Ogden, after she refused his overtures during the seven months she worked for him in 2007, the jury ruled Friday. The case focused on an overnight trip to Atlanta that Ogden, then 22, made with White within days of being hired. Ogden said White billed the trip as a way to meet influential people. But she said White showed up late at her hotel room asking to share her bed.

Even if White's version of events is to be believed — and the jury did not — his behavior shows horrible judgment. White claimed he took the new county employee along for a "boys' weekend" with the understanding she would meet up with C. Blythe Andrews, the then-77 year-old chairman of a Tampa newspaper that caters to the black community. Jurors in the civil trial dismissed that defense and awarded Ogden $75,000. One juror told the St. Petersburg Times that White was not a believable witness, and when jurors heard that he had admitted to falsifying campaign finance reports in the past, "the slime meter went way up."

Now White's fellow commissioners will have a say in any decision to appeal because the move would require additional public money for outside lawyers. It would be a travesty to throw good money after bad. This case could easily cost upward of $500,000 even without an appeal. The county, which was also named in the lawsuit, spent $140,000 on outside counsel even before the jury's award. That is in addition to in-house staff time. Plus, the county could be on the hook for Ogden's legal costs.

The county has a fiduciary responsibility to insist that White reimburse taxpayers, and it should sue him if need be. The trip had nothing to do with public business. It was arranged under secrecy. Even the most charitable explanation has White using a public employee to curry favor with a man whose newspaper can help make or break careers among Tampa's black politicians. This cynicism and sense of entitlement is par for the course for an official who over the years has sought to raise his own pay, engaged in sleazy business deals, spent campaign contributions on Italian suits and intervened with police on a friend's behalf. His constituents have tolerated the misconduct — at least until now. But the taxpayers countywide should not have to.

Not a dime to defend White 08/24/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 24, 2009 8:03pm]

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