1. Opinion

Ruth: A roach-infested reputation

Published Jul. 12, 2013

William A. "Hoe" Brown has found himself transitioning from pillar of the community to the self- inflicted pilloried.

Days ago, Brown was more well known as chairman of the Tampa Port Authority and as Republican Party fundraiser. But that was before disclosures emerged he was on his way to becoming one of Tampa's most notorious slumlords, presiding over an empire of stomach-churning, roach-infested squalor that made the Unabomber's shack look the presidential suite at the Don CeSar Hotel.

When you are trying to cultivate an image as a savvy chap bringing a keen sense of business acumen to the Tampa Port Authority, it doesn't look good to have the phrase "not fit for human habitation" associated with your real estate empire.

Last year, Brown illegally placed five divided mobile homes behind his office at 106 Stanley St. in Tampa and charged tenants receiving public assistance $550 a month to live in bug-crawling 200-square-foot hovels amid human and animal waste.

Brown isn't saying much and has employed the services of an interpreter, public relations flack Beth Leytham, to explain himself. He has yet to provide a complete accounting for how someone familiar with real estate and code enforcement with at least 15 rental properties in Tampa, Gainesville and Orlando could illegally place rental units behind his office.

Through his personal Baghdad Bob, Brown has offered up the alibi that he was completely clueless about the icky-poo-poo, unsanitary conditions his customers were subjected to until it was brought to his attention in May.

Really? Is that so?

Brown wasn't aware of the odors wafting from behind his office? He was oblivious to 82 calls to the Tampa Police Department beginning in January 2012 to investigate assaults, battery and grand theft? The dead body of a women who died from a drug overdose who was found in March in another apartment within his office slipped his mind? He forgot about a notice from the city regarding violations of zoning laws he received in — April?

Either Brown has the attention span of a newt, or he's being more willfully disingenuous than an episode of The Apprentice.

Either way, it doesn't bode well.

As chairman of the Tampa Port Authority board, Brown helps guide an organization that generates $15.1 billion in economic impact with more than 80,000 employees. The board is responsible for reviewing all manner of contracts, leases and purchases — led by a guy who claims not to have known that putting cheesy rental mobile homes on his property was illegal.

And this is the same port authority chairman, the owner of an insect-ridden mobile home park whose number is on TPD speed dial, who voted to reject an effort by investors Santosh Govindaraju and Punit Shah to develop Channelside Bay Plaza on the grounds the two men lacked the necessary business wherewithal to manage the property.

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What being regarded by Jake Slater, Tampa's director of neighborhood empowerment, as the operator of one of the worst slums he has ever seen will do to Brown's status as a Republican power broker remains to be seen. It probably isn't a good sign when the Republicans have to wonder if they need to delouse a check before depositing it.

Brown attempted damage control by handing out wads of cash to the residents of Hoe Acres to help them find other quarters. It was too little, too late.

Brown is a man of means who lives in a 2,600-square-foot, $485,000 South Tampa home. If he wanted to assist the less advantaged with clean, safe, dignified housing, there were plenty of ways to engage in civic altruism. Instead, for a few tainted dollars, the Tampa Port Authority chairman allowed his reputation to set sail long ago.


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