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Gov. Rick Scott 'expects' appointee Sam Rashid to leave Aviation Authority board

Sam Rashid is under fire over a Sept. 2 Facebook post.
Sam Rashid is under fire over a Sept. 2 Facebook post.
Published Sep. 16, 2015

TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott wants an appointee who called a local public relations consultant a "tax-payer subsidized slut" to resign his seat on the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board, Scott's office said Tuesday.

But the appointee, influential Republican activist Sam Rashid, said he intends to stay put — for now.

Rashid's comments, made Sept. 2 on Facebook, were directed at Beth Leytham, a Tampa consultant hired to help win public support for the county transportation sales tax referendum known as Go Hillsborough.

In the same post, he alleged that Leytham made "several million dollars" as an "unregistered lobbyist by having an intimately close relationship with three of our local elected officials." Rashid has been critical of the Go Hillsborough effort.

Scott appointed Rashid to the Aviation Authority board in June 2014. Last week, the governor said if Rashid did indeed make those remarks, he should resign.

On Tuesday, his office was more strident.

"Governor Scott expects him to resign and would accept his resignation," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Rashid did not respond to a request for comment regarding the governor's statement. Earlier Tuesday he acknowledged that he "serves at the governor's behest." However, he also said that won't yet step down from the board that oversees Tampa International Airport.

"At this moment I am still contemplating my involvement with the HCAA," Rashid said.

Rashid previously said he would stay on the Aviation Authority board until WTSP 10News finished broadcasting a multipart story on Leytham.

The WTSP story, the first part of which aired Monday night and had Tampa political circles buzzing on Tuesday, is a multifaceted examination of Leytham's business, her campaign work for local politicians like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandra Murman; and her role working on the Go Hillsborough transportation initiative.

Among other things, the television station raised the question of whether Leytham's interactions with elected and non-elected local officials meet the definition of lobbying, and whether she should have to register as a lobbyist.

Leytham is being paid $185,000 as a subcontractor for Parsons Brinckerhoff, the multinational engineering firm hired by Hillsborough County to spearhead public outreach for a proposed transportation sales tax that could be on the 2016 ballot.

Rashid posted excerpts from the story on his Facebook page. When reached for comment earlier Tuesday, he deflected criticism of his remarks and questions about his political future as "a blip" compared to the "larger story."

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Leytham denied the allegations raised in the WTSP story and insisted her interactions did not meet the legal definition of a lobbyist.

Leytham added that Rashid's remarks were "beyond the pale" and said the WTSP story, regardless of its findings, doesn't exonerate a gubernatorial appointee from using derogatory and sexist language.

"It is two entirely different issues," Leytham said. "In no way, shape or form does it change the inappropriateness of what he did.

"It was intentionally demeaning, and he has sought to continue to perpetuate that."

Rashid, a Valrico businessman, is well known in local Republican circles for his activism and influence. But he can also be a polarizing figure, and this is not the first time his Facebook rants and self-described "flamethrower" style have gotten him in trouble.

Earlier this year, Rashid stepped down from the commission that nominates federal judges after it was reported he called some local judges "dumbasses" on Facebook. Rashid was nominated to the post jointly by Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.

After his attack on Leytham drew swift scrutiny earlier this month, Rashid said he would reach out to Scott and "ask him for his preference with respect to my appointment."

Neither Rashid nor the governor's office would say whether that conversation took place.

Times staff writers Richard Danielson and Caitlin Johnston and correspondent William March contributed to this report. Contact Steve Contorno at Follow @scontorno.