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Hillsborough School Board member Washington prevails in election lawsuit

The plaintiff, former board member Tamara Shamburger, plans to appeal as she seeks to have the Nov. 3 results overturned.
Henry "Shake" Washington, left, defeated Tamara Shamburger, right, in her re-election bid for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board. Shamburger challenged Washington's qualifications to run but lost.
Henry "Shake" Washington, left, defeated Tamara Shamburger, right, in her re-election bid for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board. Shamburger challenged Washington's qualifications to run but lost. [ Times ]
Published Jan. 7, 2021|Updated Jan. 8, 2021

TAMPA — Henry “Shake” Washington has won a lawsuit that challenged his qualifications to run for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board.

But the former board member who filed the suit, Tamara Shamburger, plans to appeal Judge Cheryl Thomas’ ruling.

At issue is whether Washington, a retired school district administrator who won the District 5 seat in November, met the residency requirements to seek office in the central Hillsborough district. The suit says Washington fell short of the legal requirements because he did not live in the district at the time he qualified to run.

Washington and his family have lived for years in a Mango home that lies about three quarters of a mile east of the closest District 5 boundary. His mother-in-law lives inside District 5, in a home in West Tampa.

As he was preparing to seek office, Washington said he moved clothes, furnishings and other belongings into the West Tampa house. He changed the address on his driver’s license. He started paying household bills and making repairs with the intent of making West Tampa his primary home. He gave up his homestead exemption in Mango.

But his wife and daughter stayed in Mango. And, he acknowledged in a sworn statement, the couple move back and forth between the two locations.

Shamburger, in her suit, said Washington’s actions were designed to give election officials the appearance that he lived in West Tampa when that was not his true home. Washington, in his response, said his actions demonstrated his dedication to serving a community where he has deep roots, including work he performed in a career that spanned more than 40 years.

The lawsuit named Washington and the Hillsborough County Canvassing Board as defendants. Thomas on Wednesday dismissed it with prejudice, according to attorneys for both sides.

“I’m glad the court saw this lawsuit for exactly what it was — a frivolous attempt by a losing candidate to undermine the will of the voters,” Cheryl Forchilli, Washington’s attorney, said in a written statement.

The statement included this quote from Washington: “I’ve already been at work for more than a month dealing with the extraordinary challenges currently facing the school district. It’s time we all come together, put the interests of our children, teachers and parents first, and deal with the pressing needs ahead of us.”

Christian Waugh, who is representing Shamburger, said he will file an appeal as soon as the order is entered.

He said Washington is in the wrong because state statute is more specific on residency requirements for school board members, and when they must be met, than it is for other forms of elected office. Thomas, he said, does not appear to have considered these legal differences.

“It’s just a wrong decision that can set a lot of bad precedent in school board elections,” he said.

Shamburger served a single four-year term before she was ousted by Washington in first the primary, then a runoff. The final breakdown in votes was 55 to 45 percent.

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