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Adams deflects criticism of past

In the District 4 commission race, incumbent Jim Fowler's references to Scott Adams' rap sheet seem to backfire.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002


INVERNESS -- Name recognition is the least of Scott Adams' worries.

His permit battles with state and county agencies have been the stuff of headlines since 1997.

He has used billboards to blast county officials, full-page newspaper ads to question the Economic Development Council and once even hired a clown to stand outside his County Road 486 logging and mulching business with a sign telling the county to "Stop the Lunacy."

Name recognition? No problem. It's the 36-year-old stucco contractor's past that has become an issue in the race for the District 4 County Commission seat.

Deflecting criticism of his voting record last week, Commissioner Jim Fowler told the audience Wednesday at a Crystal Oaks candidates forum that at least he had never taken drugs or landed in jail.

The inference, of course, was that Adams had.

Adams says that's old news. His last arrest was in 1993, when he pleaded no contest to charges of battery on a police officer, reckless driving and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

The battery charge was a felony, but because the court withheld a finding of guilt, Adams is not a felon. Therefore, he can still vote and run for office.

"I have always been an honest person with integrity. There's never been any of my honesty or integrity questioned," Adams said. "My arrests were for childhood things that happen to normal kids. . . . Since my kids and my business and I've been married, I haven't been in no trouble."

A rough-around-the-edges, nonparty candidate with a ninth-grade education and a checkered past, Adams is not your average commission hopeful.

But his campaign and the opposition to Fowler in some circles have made this the most-watched local race in this year's general election.

Fowler, the two-term Republican incumbent, has come under fire for his vote approving the Halls River Retreat condominium project, his support of the Suncoast Parkway extension through Citrus County and his favorable attitude toward developers and property rights.

Fowler won the three-way Republican primary Sept. 10 by just 27 votes after the manual recount, making it the closest County Commission race in four decades.

With no Democrat in the running, Adams is the only alternative to Fowler on the Nov. 5 ballot. That's enough to make him a viable candidate in the eyes of voters like Winston Perry, a Homosassa resident who fought the condo project.

"In talking with (Adams), I found that he will listen to you. He will listen to ideas about various issues," Perry said. "I don't think his opponent listens to you. (Fowler) has got his mind made up. You can talk to him 'til the day is gone, and he still won't listen to you or pay any attention to you."

A sobering experience

It was April 25, 1993, the eve of Adams' 27th birthday, when he was pulled over for speeding and weaving, according to the report from the Crystal River Police Department.

Adams told officers he had drunk five beers that night. His eyes were red and glassy and his speech was slurred, the report stated. Officers found two pipes and about 4 grams of marijuana in Adams' Chevy pickup.

Adams became testy as the officers drove him to jail and spit on Officer Brian Coleman, according to the report.

"(Adams) was still very hostile and stated that he would have my job, and that I was a young punk hiding behind my badge," Coleman wrote in his report. "He also stated that we would "get it on.' "

It wasn't Adams' first run-in with the law: He has a 1987 conviction in Sumter County for driving under the influence, and he was arrested in 1989 and 1990 on battery charges that were later dropped.

"I grew up in a country town, used to get in some fights, sneak off, and we just did our things," said Adams, who has lived in Citrus County since he was 3 years old. "We were basically good kids. I've done all the little stuff, I would say, that 90 percent of every American child has done."

While he doesn't disown his rowdy past, Adams said some of the complaints against him have been false.

In November 1993, ex-girlfriend Dania Cook filed a request for a restraining order against Adams, alleging that he had hit her once and was harassing her. She withdrew the request a couple of weeks later. Adams said her charges were unfounded.

Two years ago, when Adams was a candidate for the District 5 County Commission seat, a 20-year-old woman filed a report with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office accusing Adams of using cocaine with her in 1998 and pressuring her into sex, fathering her child.

Adams called the allegation "bizarre and ludicrous," saying it was a last-minute smear campaign orchestrated by his opponents. The Sheriff's Office determined there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations.

But the hard-fought 2000 campaign, which Adams narrowly lost to Millie King in the Republican runoff, was a sobering experience for Adams. The day after he lost, Adams swore off alcohol and says he hasn't had a beer since.

"It wasn't worth it for me or my family," said Adams, who is married and has a 10-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. "That was enough. Even though it's very immature to get into somebody's private life, I didn't want to give them opponents anything."

Supporters say they have seen Adams mature in recent years, particularly since the 2000 election.

"Most of us have a rambunctious past when we're young and exuberant," said Perry, the Homosassa resident. "Now he's got a family, and that changes you. That gives you a whole different perspective on life. You really start to settle down, and I think he's settled down."

Adams describes himself as a graduate of the school of hard knocks and believes his experiences have helped him grow.

"I feel that going through them times in my life, and experiences and the little trouble that I've been in, it's made me a better person," Adams said. "It's called tough love. When you're a young man that gets your butt throwed in jail for a few days, see if you don't realize you want to do the right thing.

"It made me a good person," he said. "That's how it made me the person I am today."

Making headlines

Adams is open about his past, and his battles have been well documented in the newspapers: His lawsuits against county officials; the day he spent in jail in January 2001 for contempt of court after reopening his log yard against a judge's order.

But when Fowler alluded to Adams' past at a forum last week, it seemed to hurt the commissioner more than the challenger.

The audience at the Crystal Oaks clubhouse booed and jeered Fowler.

"Fowler mentioned Scott's arrest record and that's what set it off," said Patricia Cowen, a member of the civic association committee that organized the forum. "People felt it was not something that should have been introduced, at least in that particular way."

Fowler also referred to Adams' battles with the county -- battles Adams says he was right to fight.

Adams thinks the county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District have held him to different permitting standards than other property owners.

Swiftmud cited Adams several years ago for building a 2,200-foot logging and cattle road without an environmental resource permit on the ranch he used to own near the Withlacoochee River. Officials say the road impacted wetlands and affected stormwater drainage, which are regulated by Swiftmud.

Citrus County sued Adams in 2000 for running his logging and mulching business on CR 486 without a development permit.

Adams argued that the ranch and the log yard were agricultural operations and therefore did not need permits under the state's Right to Farm Act.

After a costly legal battle, Swiftmud settled its lawsuit with Adams in 1999. But Adams' case against the county continues.

A judge temporarily shut down the business in March 2000 until the case could go to trial. Protesting against what they felt was an unjust injunction, Adams and his partner, Charlie Strange, resumed business for a week in January 2001, earning a stint in jail and a $500 fine for contempt of court.

At a trial in February 2001, the county argued that the log yard should be permanently closed unless the owners obtained development permits. But Adams and Strange requested more time to prepare their defense, and the trial has remained in limbo since.

Property Appraiser Ron Schultz, an adviser to Adams' campaign, does not fault Adams for his battles against the agencies.

"Disagreeing with county government can occasionally be rational, having done so myself," Schultz said.

For the record, Adams has also made his share of good-news headlines: When floods made Arrowhead roads impassible in the winter of 1998, and when residents on Corbett Avenue complained that their sandy road was too slippery, Adams sent in his trucks to help.

He poured the concrete for a new basketball court for the Boys and Girls Club of Homosassa. He brought truckloads of mulch to fill in the deteriorating driveway at the boys and Girls Club of Inverness.

And when Arnold and Mary-Ann Virgilio tried to organize a volunteer effort this year to line Main Street with American flags, Adams offered his trucks and crews (although the City of Inverness later raised the flags itself).

"The man definitely assisted people where needed," Mrs. Virgilio said. "He's a very honest man, a very hardworking man, and we found him to be a straight-talker whenever we needed something."

In the past

Millie King has a unique perspective on the Fowler-Adams race. She has run against both men -- Fowler in 1998, Adams in 2000 for the seat eventually won by Josh Wooten -- and she has disagreed with both on a range of issues.

She plans to vote for Fowler.

"I have not always agreed with Mr. Fowler's opinions or his attitude toward the public, and I, too, (have) accused him of not listening, even though he has always been pleasant to me," King said. "I can't say the same for Mr. Adams. I got to observe both men very closely while on my campaign trails. I felt first-hand the wrath of Mr. Adams' arrogance that the public was not privy to.

"If you want to sit at a commission meeting or at home in front of your television set, drinking beer and eating popcorn, and watch the show and see the confusion and chaos that would happen, vote for Mr. Adams," King said. "If you want stability, professionalism, intelligent decisions with a little bit of arrogance thrown in, vote for Mr. Fowler."

Others frustrated with Fowler are considering Adams, however. His permitting battles were fought on principle, they say, and his past is just that: the past.

"I think (Adams) comes across as a very sincere, viable candidate, and I hope people look at him that way," Perry said. "Because we certainly can't do any worse than we are now. We're not represented."

-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or bhall@sptimes.com .

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