1. Florida Politics

Hillsborough candidate resigned from soil and water board after pot stunk up hotel room

Kim O'Connor is running for Hillsborough County Commission. [Soil and Water Conservation District]
Published Oct. 1, 2018

TAMPA — Kim O'Connor checked out early after her taxpayer-funded one-night stay at a hotel in Okeechobee.

She was there as an elected supervisor with the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District for a May 16 meeting on water conservation programs.

But O'Connor, a candidate for Hillsborough County Commission, smelled strongly of marijuana, hotel staff later told district officials. They sent staff members to check her room and found marijuana on the bed and a room that reeked of the drug.

In a letter sent to the district June 5, the Holiday Inn Express and Suites demanded the district pay an extra $500. The marijuana odor was so pungent, the hotel had to hire a professional cleaning firm and use commercial fans to air out the room, which could not be let for three days, the letter said.

At the district's next board meeting June 13, O'Connor denied smoking marijuana. Fellow board members indicated they would ask Gov. Rick Scott to remove her from office for malfeasance if she did not resign, but she faced little criticism.

She was told if she stepped down, the official minutes would record only her resignation without listing a reason so she could run for other offices without the blemish on her record.

"If you go run for something else, that's all it's going to say is you resigned," board chairman Mark Proctor said.

She resigned her supervisor's seat at the meeting but said the allegations against her were "unfounded."

"I would never smoke in a motel room," she told board members.

Two days later, June 15, O'Connor filed to run for the Hillsborough County Commission District 7 seat. As the only Green Party candidate, she did not have to compete in the Aug. 28 primary and went straight on the Nov. 6 ballot as Kim "KLARC" O'Connor.

O'Connor told the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday that she does use marijuana but insisted that during the trip for the district she did not smoke in the hotel room and was not carrying marijuana. She said she went straight from the meeting to catch a flight to California for a seminar on intuition healing.

O'Connor said the hotel was being renovated and yellow tape was on her door. Maintenance workers were coming and going, she said.

"I didn't have it; I didn't smoke it," she said. "Whatever they smelled or saw wasn't me."

Documents obtained from the district show O'Connor signed and initialed a hotel receipt that spells out that a penalty for violating the nonsmoking and no-pets policy is $500.

District executive director Betty Jo Tompkins, who stayed at the same hotel, dealt with the complaints.

"The hotel was very upset," Tompkins told board members at the June 13 meeting. "The room had been checked by multiple people, and there was an issue in the room."

The hotel wanted the fine to be paid immediately on the Hillsborough County-issued credit card used to book the two rooms. At Tompkins' urging, hotel managers agreed to give the district more time to resolve the issue. Neither hotel staff members nor district officials called law enforcement.

Payment of the fine was another concern for board members. Mary Ellen Farris, an attorney with Hillsborough County, told them taxpayer money could not be used.

"I can tell you that the clerk's office will see this and there will be an inquiry and they would not pay this," Farris said.

Mary Hayes, a general manager at the hotel, said Friday the fine is outstanding and the district is helping the hotel get payment from O'Connor.

The official minutes of the district's June board meeting give no details about a 40-minute discussion with O'Connor other than, "Supervisor Kim O'Connor tendered resignation."

When asked why fellow board members did not criticize O'Connor, Proctor said they were trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. He said he did not mean to imply by his comments at the meeting that her resignation would mean she could run for office without the incident coming to light.

"Maybe I misspoke," Proctor said. "When I found out she was running for office, I said, 'Oh my gosh. That's going to all come out.' "

O'Connor, 70, is a retired lawyer. She was elected as supervisor in 2016, beating incumbent Deborah Tamargo, then chairwoman of Hillsborough's Republican Executive Committee.

State records show O'Connor was arrested in 1997 in Jacksonville for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Charges were dropped.

Her run for County Commission appears half-hearted. She loaned her campaign $26,000 in June, records show, but has no other donations. She has spent $50 campaigning and has no campaign website.

Fellow Tampa Green Party member Richard Carpenter said O'Connor has not sought an endorsement from either the local or state party chapters. Nonetheless, the group's Facebook page on Sept. 26 posted an "Elect KLARC" banner.

"The unsubstantiated allegation leveled against her, were it to be true, would be of great concern to the local Green Party," he said.


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