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Challenger: Money issues resolved

Patrick Bergy, the candidate who wants to be Pasco County's next elections supervisor, had financial problems in recent years, including a foreclosure on his home in Pinellas County, a bankruptcy and a court judgment against him.

Bergy, 38, who is challenging incumbent Kurt Browning, said his financial difficulties are in the past and do not affect his fitness to run the elections office.

"The job managing the elections office does not involve bookkeeping," Bergy said. "If it does, I'll hire someone to do that."

Browning, 46, who is seeking his seventh term as elections supervisor, doesn't see it that way. "I think it has everything to do with how he would run the elections office," Browning said. "That's not to say that people with financial problems are not good people. But this office has a $2{-million budget."

Many of Bergy's financial problems related to his now-defunct business, Digital Photo Images. He said he ran the business with his then-fiancee. When their relationship faltered, he said, so did the business.

He filed for personal bankruptcy in December 2000. Court records indicate that he owed $112,814 to creditors at that time, including $65,000 to the bank that held the mortgage on his home. The bankruptcy was discharged four months later, meaning the debts either were forgiven or paid.

In an interview Tuesday, Bergy insisted that none of his creditors lost money in the bankruptcy. In most cases, he said, he returned equipment, and the bankruptcy enabled him to get out of long-term leases. The home was sold.

Bergy moved to New Port Richey in 2000. He is married and has two young girls, ages 3{ and 1{. He works as a computer network administrator at a Tampa cardiac clinic. He is a largely self-taught computer expert with Microsoft certification. His knowledge of computers is what got him interested in running for the elections supervisor job.

Bergy said he took notice of the various election reforms after the 2000 election and became alarmed at some of the proposed changes _ especially the widespread move toward touch screen voting. He thinks Browning's confidence in the machines is misplaced. Bergy's campaign is based largely on that issue.

The race, which Bergy acknowledges is an uphill battle, has become somewhat testy in recent months. Bergy has created a Web site in which he criticizes Browning. Among other things, he faults Browning for his highly publicized switch from Democrat to Republican. Bergy is running as a candidate with no party affiliation because he believes the elections chief should not identify with a political party.

In March he filed an ethics complaint, accusing Browning of putting off a meeting in which Bergy sought to learn more about Pasco's voting system. The complaint was dismissed.

Now Bergy is accusing Browning of avoiding him. Browning was scheduled to appear Tuesday on a local television talk show to debate voting methods. Bergy sought to get on the show to provide the other side and to debate Browning. Ultimately neither appeared on the Kathy Fountain show.

When asked whether he was avoiding Bergy, Browning replied, "Sure, I am. He wants to make himself out to be an expert on this, and he's not."

Browning said he would be happy to participate in a debate with Bergy. And one is scheduled next month. But he said he did not want the television show about the issue of voting methods to turn into a candidate debate.

In an interview Tuesday, Browning pointed out that his office has had to send several letters to Bergy's campaign notifying them that some of his campaign filings were done improperly. For instance, in a letter dated Aug. 2, Bergy was notified that the total monetary contributions on a summary sheet did not match the totals on the report itself.

Those sorts of mistakes are easily corrected, and the letters have been sent to other candidates as well. The Bergy campaign has received six such letters so far. In 11 other countywide races, just three other letters have been sent.

Browning regards the oversights as significant.

Bergy dismisses the criticism. He said given the demands of his job, his young family and running a campaign against an incumbent, the mistakes were minor.

"This isn't an election about my paperwork," Bergy said. "Turning some forms back in? The fact that that's all I've screwed up is amazing."