WEEKI WACHEE — Hernando County School Board candidate Jimmy Lodato says he's lived in the district he's running for — in a motor home at Camp-A-Wyle Lake Resort — ever since he qualified last month for the District 3 seat.
But a couple who lives next door to the campsite address Lodato recently listed on his voter registration, 9242 Grizzly Bear Lane, told the Tampa Bay Times they never saw his RV there until July 25.
School Board members are elected countywide in Hernando, but the Florida Division of Elections says candidates must reside in the district they are running for by the time they qualify. That is unlike county commissioners, who do not have to live in their district until after an election is decided.
Lodato, 76, is a perennial candidate for office who has tried unsuccessfully to run for a Hernando County Commission seat three times, in three different districts, as both a Democrat and a Republican, since 2012.
Voter records from April list his address as a house on Mondon Hill Road in Spring Hill, where his wife owns a home, according to Hernando property records. Lodato switched his address to the campsite on June 8, two weeks before qualifying, records show.
"Everything I've done has been on the up and up," he said last week. "This is not a situation where there are bad intentions or I'm trying to deceive."
Lodato provided the Times with a rental receipt marked with the campsite's logo. It says his lease there started June 15, a week before qualifying, which the park's office manager Amber Castleman confirmed.
He said he's lived there on-and-off since, because the motor home has chronic air conditioning problems and had to be fixed multiple times by mechanics at Register RV off Cortez Boulevard.
When the motorhome was in the shop, he said, he stayed with his wife in Spring Hill, outside his district, where they lived together before he moved to the campsite. Otherwise, the couple has breakfast at her house each morning, Lodato said, and she visits the RV several times a week.
John Grochowicz, service manager at the repair shop, said his records show Lodato's motor home was there for seven days total last month, from July 2-5, and again July 23-25. The RV was never serviced in June, he said.
When a Times reporter visited the campground on July 25, she found a motor home parked on Lodato's lot and knocked on the door. No one answered, but Tina Furlow, who lives with her husband, John Furlow, in a motor home next door, said it was the first time they had seen Lodato's RV since moving to the campground on June 27.
"Just came up this morning," she said, adding that she thought it was odd that the motor home's slide-out had not been extended.
The water and sewer lines weren't hooked up either, she said, although the electric cord was plugged into the campground utility box. There hasn't even been car there, John Furlow added during an interview the next day.
"I sit in this seat from morning to night," he said, motioning toward Lodoto's lot. "There ain't nobody in there."
Castleman, the campground office manager, told the Times that Lodato's first electric bill, which covered usage through July 1, totaled $9.90.
"That could be about right," she said. "He had to have been on the site in June for a short amount of time before the Furlows got here."
Lodato's bill for July totaled $10.50, Castleman said. She said the amount seems low for full-time residence, but that it proves Lodato was there for some amount of time.
"He wouldn't have any electric bill if he hadn't been here at all," she said. "He had to have been on the property for a short time."
Former Spring Hill fire commissioner Bob Kanner told the Times last week he drove by the campsite almost every day for about two weeks, "just to satisfy my own curiosity." Each time, he said, the concrete slab was empty.
"I don't know where he's living, but it's not where he says he's living," he said.
Lodato said he blames his School Board opponent Diane Rowden for spreading lies about his living habits, then called Kanner a "stalker."
"I'm not going to go around defending what I do when I know that everything I have is documented and true," he said. "I'm telling you I've been there. That's where I was, and that's where I am."
Rowden said Lodato is "trying to make his problem my problem."
"When people deflect by putting the blame on somebody else for their own deception, that's another deception," she said. "I filed in the right district."
Rowden and Kanner said they exchanged notes about what they know about Lodato's campsite, but didn't coordinate efforts.
Julius Blayzs, the third candidate vying for the District 3 seat, said the discrepancy about Lodato's residency doesn't concern him.
"I'm going to stay out of it," he said. "It's not my issue to deal with."
According to an opinion by the Florida Division of Elections, whether Lodato is in violation of election laws has to be decided in court. Hernando Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson isn't responsible for verifying his place of residence, only that the home address he listed is in his district.
Because Lodato changed his registration to the campsite address ahead of qualifying, and because it is within the district, Anderson said, she cannot remove his name from the School Board ballot.
If Lodato wins the District 3 seat and is taken to court and found to have violated the law, it would be up to the state to remove him from the School Board, board attorney Dennis Alfonso said.
"The board has no authority over board members," he said, adding that the governor is the only person with the power to remove an elected official from office. "If a court order came ... it would really be in the hands of the state."
Castleman said Lodato was last in the park office on July 25 — the day mechanics said he picked up his motor home, and the first day the Furlows said they saw it — to ask about when his next rent payment was due. His lease ends November 14, a week and a day after the General Election.
Times staff writers Karen Peterson and Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Contact Megan Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mareevs.