Take action against Churuti - July 28, editorial
The position taken by the editorial board against Pinellas County Attorney Susan Churuti is based on incorrect or misunderstood information. The first and most important correction to your assertions, is that Susan Churuti never represented Property Appraiser Jim Smith personally in any action against the county, or in furtherance of the sale to the county of his property in the Tarpon Woods area.
Pursuant to the Pinellas County charter section 4.02 (c) the county attorney is responsible for the representation of the board of county commissioners and constitutional officers in matters relating to their official responsibilities. Thus, when the county received a letter from Jim Helinger, Esq., on behalf of Jim Smith, outlining damage done by the county to the piece of property in the Tarpon Woods area, Ms. Churuti was required under the rules of professional conduct of the Florida Bar, to inform her clients that a conflict would arise if litigation resulted between the parties as to whether the county was liable for the damages. Churuti clearly states in her letters on March 19 to Ronnie Duncan and Jim Smith, that she represents both the Board of County Commissioners and the property appraiser "in their official capacities" and if the parties were to move into litigation in this matter it would result in her immediate withdrawal and a requirement that both sides would need separate counsel outside the county attorney's office. The assertion that Susan Churuti represented Property Appraiser Jim Smith as an individual in this matter is wrong!
Since Ms. Churuti did not represent Jim Smith individually in this matter the remainder of the allegations by the St. Petersburg Times against Ms. Churuti are wrong!
The county handled Jim Smith's claim as it would have handled any claim made by a property owner when the county illegally enters and damages private property. Even though Jim Helinger did not handle the matter on behalf of Jim Smith after the initial letter, he indicates that the case of liability against the county was a "slam dunk." Once liability was established, then the only issue was value. Susan Churuti had nothing to do with the appraisal process or the negotiations for the purchase of the property by the county. The fact is the county avoided litigation in this matter, where there was clear liability, and saved the Pinellas County taxpayers a lot of money.
Susan Churuti has well represented Pinellas County as the county attorney for more than 20 years. She is gratefully accepting Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe's invitation to appear in front of the grand jury without a subpoena. We are confident that after a full investigation Susan Churuti will be exonerated of any alleged impropriety of any kind. We look forward to the resolution of this matter in front of the grand jury.
Debora Moss, Esq., Law Offices of Carlson and Meissner, attorneys for Susan Churuti, Clearwater
Commissioners asked questions about Smith land deal
Your editorial details serious allegations of impropriety which are the subject of an ongoing grand jury investigation. I am confident that the investigation will provide a definitive, unbiased record of what actually occurred in the Jim Smith property acquisition. I agree with your editorial premise that regardless of the outcome of that investigation, the County Commission has a responsibility to take appropriate actions to maintain the public trust in county government, and the integrity of the relationship between the commission and our chief legal adviser.
The Times, however, also has a responsibility to report accurately. Your editorial states that the commission approved the transaction "without a single question." Moreover, your news reports on this issue have repeated that misleading implication several times. Nothing could be further from the truth. I asked several questions of the county administrator during multiple agenda briefings preceding the transaction, particularly:
1. Is there a legitimate public purpose for acquiring the land?
2. Are we paying a fair market price for the land, based on an outside appraisal?
3. Are we liable for the alleged damage to the property, resulting from our post-hurricane flood mitigation work?
4. Is this an arm's-length transaction, in which Property Appraiser Jim Smith will receive the same treatment as any other property owner whose land is being purchased by the county for flood control, road construction or any other public purpose?
Those are just a few of the questions that I posed to our county administrator over the course of several of our briefings. I have no doubt that my colleagues asked the same type of questions during their individual agenda briefings. The public should know that in fact questions were asked by the commission. Unfortunately the lack of full disclosure of roles, relationships and circumstances tainted the decisionmaking value of the answers provided to the commission. In my opinion, it is our responsibility to make sure that scenario is never repeated.
Kenneth T. Welch, Pinellas County commissioner, District 7, Clearwater
Cities on tax cuts: No thanks July 28, story
Save homes before saving programs
After reading this article, I was sputtering sparks and fumes so bad at 6 a.m. I had to go for a jog. I think I live in a democracy were the people had a right to vote and choose what they preferred to take place without any overrule. I never knew there was such a thing as a majority overrule. I am looking forward to voting for the super homestead exemption in January. I'm sure a few other homeowners are too.
I ask myself: What program could possibly be more important than saving your home? Every street I go down has several homes for sale. It's frightening that people are pushed to that point. The article mentioned a program for at-risk kids. I love kids. Saving the home for them is first and foremost. What endangered quality-of-life issue is more important than losing your home? People would not be on the street if they could keep their homes.
To me, keeping your home is the most important program for a family to have. They should have peace of mind that no one can override them with a supermajority vote. I hope the public gets involved in this issue. Otherwise if it's left to the officials we will have programs and no homes.
Judy Mohrman, St. Petersburg
Culture crisis - July 26, Floridian story
Why target arts?
Thank you, John Fleming, for an excellent article. Why are the arts always the first thing politicos want to cut? Are they all rednecks or backwoods types? It seems that is what they want us to regress to by cutting the arts.
Once, Americans flocked to Europe for the arts, the music, the architecture. We have finally come of age and can boast of our own culture. St. Petersburg can be proud of all its offerings. Pinellas County can be proud of the arts promoted in the schools.
Can anyone quickly name the great athletes of the eras before 1900? Most everyone is at least familiar with Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Shakespeare, Moliere, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Da Vinci and scores of others.
Joanne Willis, St. Petersburg
Worth less but taxed more July 27, story
There's nothing like scaring homeowners again with this article. Nowhere do you tell them that on their tax bill coming out this year is a 7 percent rollback on their property taxes in Pinellas County and 5 percent in Hillsborough.
In the January election, voters can vote for the new amendment that will give the homeowners a choice to continue with the Save Our Homes cap or choose the super homestead exemption. This super exemption is 75 percent of the first $200,000 of a home's value and 15 percent of the next $300,000.
Every homestead receives at least a $50,000 exemption. The maximum homestead exemption would be $195,000.
Stop scaring the public!
Iris Waggener, Tampa