‘Civility’ should be part of Pasco County campaign rules, says election supervisor

Elections Supervisor Brian Corley seeks additions to an existing ethics ordinance.
Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian E. Corley is asking the County Commission to adopt new rules to govern campaigning in Pasco elections.
Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian E. Corley is asking the County Commission to adopt new rules to govern campaigning in Pasco elections. [ WIGINTON, KERI | St. Petersburg Times ]
Published Jan. 8, 2020

DADE CITY — Nearly three months ago, Pasco Elections Supervisor Brian Corley sat in front of a roomful of college underclassmen and preached civility in political discourse.

Now he’s taking the message from students to candidates.

At Corley’s urging, the Pasco County Commission is considering amending the local ethical campaign practices act to stress civility.

The ordinance, first adopted in 2006, would add language asking candidates to “publicly discuss the issues and avoid criticizing my opponent in a personal nature,’’ as well as to “listen to opposing viewpoints and avoid language that is insulting or inappropriate.’’

It also asked candidates to post their campaign signs only in appropriate locations and to not distribute campaign material, including through social media, that falsifies, distorts or misrepresents facts.

“I’ve been observing for years such an erosion of civility,’’ Corley said in an interview last week. “I hear it from voters (who are) so tired of the negativity and toxicity, and so am I, as a voter.’’

Corley made similar comments during an Oct. 15 forum at the Porter Campus of Pasco-Hernando State College in which he, Pasco Democratic Executive Committee Chairman John Ford and Republican State Committeewoman Sandra Graves discussed civility in politics.

The proposed changes also include a prohibition against using amplified devices to address voters as they enter the polls on Election Day. That provision stems from a 2016 incident in which a candidate used a bullhorn to campaign outside polling sites, effectively circumventing the required 100-foot buffer between the polls and active campaigning, Corley said. A change in state law has extended the boundary to 150-feet.

Ford, the Democratic chairman, said he didn’t believe Corley’s proposed changes would bring any disagreement.

“I would be surprised if anyone would have any concerns about these issues,'' said Ford. "Certainly people make mistakes, but I don’t think any candidate running for an office would knowingly violate any of these issues.’’

''I think everybody should pledge to be ethical,'' said Graves. "It’s kind of common sense, you want your public officials to be ethical.''

The county’s 2006 ordinance came at the request of then-Elections Supervisor Kurt Browning. The ordinance carries no enforcement provisions, but asks candidates to sign agreements to campaign ethically, be truthful in their literature and not destroy opposing campaign signs. It is modeled after a similar ordinance in Broward County and is used only in Pasco County races, not legislative nor congressional races that include portions of the county.

Corley, who succeeded Browning in 2007, said no Pasco candidate has ever declined to sign the pledge.

Pasco’s five sitting county commissioners, all of whom signed the agreement during their runs for office, agreed to Corley’s request. They scheduled a public hearing on the proposed changes for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 21 in New Port Richey.