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BAY BUZZ: POLITICAL NEWS OF TAMPA BAY

Latvala open to Pinellas tax rate increase

Months after Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch broached the idea of a tax rate increase to stave off some budget cuts, Commissioner Susan Latvala told the Times editorial board Monday she is opens to do it.

Just one problem, she said: there needs to be four votes. Asked if if she'd be willing to be one of them, the Republican seeking re-election said: "Yes I would."

But when Welch raised the idea -- noting many, but not all, homeowners could still pay lower taxes because of falling property values -- Latvala and other board members were silent.

"I know there was no support. It's an election year and I'm supposed to be running as a Republican," said Latvala, adding that public won't support tax increases offered "willy nilly." Eventually, she said, the county will face a millage rate increase after the economy and budget hit bottom. But she cringed seeing a reporter write down her answer.

Why? Her opponents in the Aug. 24 primary have been skeptical if not outright opposed to tax increases while the economy struggles. Carl Folkman recently aid he wouldn't support any new tax, and Beverley Billiris has questioned adding taxes, too.

-- David DeCamp, Times staff writer

Posted by Times Editor at 06:30:08 PM on July 8, 2010

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Updated: Lawsuit seeks to boot Dingfelder from county commission race

A lawsuit filed today aims to get Democrat John Dingfelder out of the District 1 Hillsborough County Comission race. The complaint, filed by Brian Lothrop, a Republican who lives in District 1, claims that because Dingfelder missed the deadline to file his resign-to-run papers, he should never have been qualified for the ballot. Dingfelder withdrew from the race on June 29, and the next day the Hillsborough County Democratic Party put him back on the ballot, citing a state law that allows a party left without a nominee because a candidate has been removed from the ballot to appoint a replacement. But the lawsuit, which names Dingfelder, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard, interim Secretary of State Dawn Roberts and the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee, says that because Dingfelder never propely qualified for the ballot, the DEC had no legal right to name a replacement. "His name cannot be on there, nor can a substitute be on there," said Terri Gaffney, an attorney represnting Lothrop. If Dingfelder survives the challenge, he'll face the winner of the Republican primary, which pits Sandy Murman against Trey Rustmann. If the court determines Dingfelder never properly qualified, it's possible the primary on Aug. 24 will be open to all voters, including Democrats and those with no party affiliation. Read more about it here.

Update: Dingfelder offered this response to the lawsuit: "This is exactly what people hate about partisan politics. This lawsuit is just a smokescreen to divert people's attention from the issues that people really care about, like jobs, our local economy, transportation and quality of life. .... I will respectfully let the attorneys hash this out. In the meantime we are going to continue working hard and in November the voters can decide."

Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer

Posted by tampabaycom at 04:47:11 PM on July 8, 2010

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Bob Hackworth delivers attack right to Susan Latvala's inbox

Democrat Bob Hackworth, who is seeking to unseat County Commissioner Susan Latvala if she makes it through the August primary, isn't using ads to take it to Latvala, a Republican. He went straight to her county government e-mail account recently:

From Hackworth's message:

Despite the 90-degree early evening heat last Thursday at the candidates' forum sponsored by the Crystal Beach Civic Association there was a distinct chill in the air when I attempted a cordial greeting.

You certainly let me know you don't much like it when I point out to voters that special interests that support your campaign have come before the County Commission and been awarded multi-million dollar contracts. Last week that special interest contributor was a road builder. According to you, and I'm quoting here, "Nobody cares about that stuff" and "You did it too." Also, "I've already written the mailer about you and I've got the money to really go negative." Ouch!

...

So here's my take from last week's encounter. Please Susan, by all means do use all the money you've accepted from your special interest contributors to attack the principled campaign finance stand I've taken. It's probably my best shot at winning this race, so thank you.

In few words, Latvala referred him to her personal e-mail account for campaign issues. Then she e-mailed him from that account, sampled here (e-mail was provided by Hackworth at the Bay Buzz request):

I made a huge mistake on Thursday night by engaging in conversation with you ----- that won't happen again. I didn't believe all the negative things people said about you and your "campaign practices" until seeing it first hand. I will not participate in your style of campaigning.

Full exchange below.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

From: Bob Hackworth [mailto:****@****]

Sent: Monday, June 28, 2010 7:05 PM

To: Latvala, Susan

Subject: It does matter and people do care

Dear Commissioner Latvala,

Despite the 90-degree early evening heat last Thursday at the candidates' forum sponsored by the Crystal Beach Civic Association there was a distinct chill in the air when I attempted a cordial greeting.

You certainly let me know you don't much like it when I point out to voters that special interests that support your campaign have come before the County Commission and been awarded multi-million dollar contracts. Last week that special interest contributor was a road builder. According to you, and I'm quoting here, "Nobody cares about that stuff" and "You did it too." Also, "I've already written the mailer about you and I've got the money to really go negative." Ouch!

My point continues to be that whether or not it is common practice or legal this is about perception and the intense and deserved distrust people have today for the motives of elected politicians. It's about the responsibility elected officials have, in my opinion, to work every day to restore some trust and confidence back into the workings of local governments. That's why I've self-limited contributions to my campaign to $100 or less from individuals only.

I told you Thursday that I believe the public's perception of integrity and its trust in government will be very important going forward in order to effectively govern in these difficult economic times. I pointed out again that the Grand Jury investigation into the Jim Smith land deal scandal had made that point quite clear to Pinellas officials. Your response to me was that "the Grand Jury had cleared the Commissioners of any wrongdoing."

In fact, here is what the Grand Jury Presentment said in its conclusion: "All public officials should be keenly aware that in current times the public's trust in government is particularly fragile. The breath of scandal surrounding this affair we believe will, unfortunately, have a lasting impact on how the citizens of Pinellas County view its officials and government. It is incumbent on all County officials to take all steps necessary to restore confidence in our government."

As your constituent as well as your potential opponent in the November election I have every right to hold you to that higher standard. And I will continue to take all steps necessary myself to restore the public's confidence in government by limiting my campaign contributions to those with no business before the commission.

So here's my take from last week's encounter. Please Susan, by all means do use all the money you've accepted from your special interest contributors to attack the principled campaign finance stand I've taken. It's probably my best shot at winning this race, so thank you.

With all due respect,

Bob Hackworth

To: "Bob Hackworth"

Subject: RE: It does matter and people do care

Bob:

It is against campaign finance law to use County resources (this computer) for campaign purposes - please contact me at *****@*****.

Susan Latvala

Pinellas County Commissioner

315 Court Street, Suite 501

Clearwater, FL 33756

p: (727) 464-3276

f: (727) 464-3022

slatvala@pinellascounty.org

From: Susan Latvala

Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2010 11:13:06 -0400

To:

Bob:

I made a huge mistake on Thursday night by engaging in conversation with you ----- that won't happen again. I didn't believe all the negative things people said about you and your "campaign practices" until seeing it first hand. I will not participate in your style of campaigning. I have always run positive campaigns based on my record and my service to Pinellas county, and I will continue to do so. The voters will decide who can best represent them.

Everything I do in my public life and work are public record and I have nothing to be ashamed of. As a County Commissioner there is NO WAY for a Commissioner to intervene or direct a purchasing contract to a particular bidder. The BCC establishes the policy which is followed by staff and the BCC then approves the final recommendation. A very clean and transparent procedure.

The public cares that they have elected officials that are honest, trustworthy, open, available and accountable to them. I am and always have been that type of elected official.

Your quote from the Grand Jury is out of context ------------------- the BCC took the entire report very seriously and continue to evaluate how what we do can be more transparent and open and since that report many changes have been made. The County recently received an A+ rating o our web site for transparency ---- one of only 8 counties in the entire country.

Finally, I am very proud of the people who continue to support my re-election bid. Many of my supporters (Pinellas County business owners, residents and voters) have supported me since I ran for the School Board the first time, many are personal friends, neighbors, people who respect the way I have served this community, which is why they support me, not because I have done anything for them except provide honest, thoughtful, accessible government.

Have a great day.

Susan Latvala

Posted by Times Editor at 03:00:29 PM on July 8, 2010

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