1. Florida Politics

Extramarital affair tarnishes Gary Joiner, Pasco property appraiser candidate

NEW PORT RICHEY — Gary Joiner started working at the Pasco Tax Collector's Office in 1983, just a year out of high school, as a front-line clerk at an hourly pay rate of $3.50. Today, he is director of operations earning nearly $100,000 annually and is a Republican candidate for another constitutional office, Pasco property appraiser.

But Joiner's 33-year career at the Tax Collector's Office is tarnished by an admitted extramarital affair with a subordinate in 2008 and a two-week suspension last year after his bosses learned he attempted to rekindle the relationship in 2013 and 2014 and lied about it to his supervisor.

"I made a mistake,'' Joiner, 52, told the Tampa Bay Times. "Obviously, I paid a price for it. I apologized for it to everybody and moved on. We've moved on. My wife and I have tried to move on and we have.''

The campaign plans to try to inoculate Joiner from potential political damage by sending a letter signed by Joiner's wife, Sherry, to female voters urging them to ignore negative publicity about her husband.

The letter states Joiner is endorsed by Tax Collector Mike Fasano and Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. The letter does not state that Nocco's agency terminates employees who are untruthful during investigations.

"He's employed because of me,'' said Fasano. "I'm a big believer in giving people second chances. And I'm glad I did. He's done a wonderful job for the Pasco Tax Collector's Office.''

Joiner's opponent in the property appraiser's race offered a different reaction.

"They (voters) certainly need to have someone who is honest and respectful and one who treats his colleagues similarly with honesty and integrity and respect,'' said County Commissioner Ted Schrader, Joiner's opponent in the Republican primary. "If he has personal issues within the confines of his employment, then voters need to be aware that he has a past and that he needs to be held accountable for it.''

Schrader was the subject of his own negative publicity in 2013 after his arrest on a domestic violence charge when he was accused of grabbing his wife's arm while she lay in her bed. The State Attorney's Office dropped the charge 17 days later, saying in a court order "the facts and circumstances revealed do not warrant prosecution at this time.'' The Schraders divorced in 2014.

"They were false allegations. The charges were dismissed. They were expunged from my record and I'll leave it at that,'' said Schrader.

The winner of the Aug. 30 Republican primary between Joiner and Schrader faces Democrat Jon Sidney Larkin in November. Joiner's father, Gary (Buck) Joiner is a sitting member of the Pasco Mosquito Control District board and also is running for re-election in November.

Joiner's 2008 affair with a subordinate in the tax collector's Gulf Harbors office was documented by Mike Olson, Pasco's long-time tax collector who died in June 2013. Both Joiner and the woman admitted the affair and both were transferred to other offices. In particular, Olson was concerned about the safety of his employees after he learned the woman's husband had come to the office and staffers had feared a confrontation with Joiner, according to a memorandum in Joiner's personnel file.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Fasano tax collector in August 2013, bypassing Joiner's application, to succeed Olson. Fasano hired Billy Poulos as deputy tax collector and retained Joiner as director of operations — essentially the number three person in the agency responsible for overseeing five offices and 150 employees.

Poulos learned of the 2008 affair on his first day as deputy tax collector and told Joiner "he is not to continue or pursue any relationship'' with the woman, according to a memo in Joiner's personnel file.

The warning went unheeded. While investigating separate rumors of office romances in March 2015, Poulos and Fasano's human resources director learned Joiner had tried to rekindle the affair.

The woman "showed us emails and text messages where Gary was pushing her to continue and/or restart their relationship. The emails were dated December 2013, whereas the text messages varied in time up to and including August 2014,'' said a March 2015 memo.

The woman was transferred to another office. Joiner's penalty included a two-week suspension without pay. He signed a document accepting the sanctions "due to my continued pursuit of an inappropriate relationship with (the woman), and lying about said pursuit to my immediate supervisor, Billy Poulos, as well as behaving in an inappropriate manner with other staff, and behaving in a manner that's unbecoming of the director of operations.''

He promised to seek counseling and was not allowed in any of the tax collector's offices after hours unless he had permission from Fasano or Poulos. He was not permitted to be alone with any female employee during work hours and while on the tax collector's office premises. His access to security cameras and some other IT privileges were revoked. Fasano said Joiner completed the counseling and the other restrictions are no longer in place.

In an interview, Joiner said the episodes didn't affect his ability to work nor will it in the future, if he is elected property appraiser.

"I do my job every day — day in and day out. No way will it affect how I do my job.''

But will voters overlook the repetitive attempt at philandering and lying about it?

"That's up to them,'' said Joiner.

At least one supporter is questioning his allegiance to Joiner.

"First I'm hearing about it,'' Nocco said when told of the contents of Joiner's personnel file. "I'm definitely going to be making some phone calls to find out who knew what.''