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Gift to administrator raises some questions

Banker Jim Kimbrough got an autograph for County Administrator Dick Radacky. Now the commission has granted variances to Kimbrough.

By WILL VAN SANT
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003


BROOKSVILLE -- Sometime over the last month or so -- both men say they are unsure exactly when -- SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast chairman and chief executive officer Jim Kimbrough did a favor for County Administrator Dick Radacky.

Kimbrough, a booster of University of Florida athletics and friend to Steve Spurrier, the famous Gators coach and quarterback who now leads the Washington Redskins, got a football autographed by the football hero and returned it to Radacky, himself a Gators fan.

According to Radacky, the football belonged to his son and already bore the autograph of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel. The administrator said it seemed a good idea to have a ball with two Heisman winners' signatures on it, so he asked Kimbrough to get Spurrier's.

Over the past month or so, Kimbrough and owners of the Western Way Plaza shopping center, which Kimbrough helped create in the early 1980s, have been in discussion with Radacky and other county officials to secure variances needed before further development of the site can proceed.

Kimbrough owns two of the four undeveloped parcels slated to be built on at Western Way; his son is listed in documents filed with the state as registered agent for the partnership that owns another. Western Way is at State Road 50 and Mariner Boulevard, on the north side of Spring Hill.

Acting on the recommendation of two department heads, who say Radacky, uncharacteristically, called them at home after work to urge the stalled project forward, county commissioners approved those variances Tuesday -- a move that most certainly will increase the value of Kimbrough's interests at Western Way. Appraisals most recently put the value of the three parcels at $195,569.

County policy, which is based on state law, prohibits employees from soliciting or accepting "directly or through any other person, anything of value to the recipient including but not limited to a gift, . . . favor or service when the employee knows, or with the exercise of reasonable care, should know, that it is given to influence the employee."

The policy also forbids employees from taking gifts from individuals who have or may have any official business relationship with the county. Kimbrough's bank, SunTrust, handles the county's checking account and provides other financial services.

Kimbrough and Radacky, who has a picture of Albert, the Gator mascot, on his office wall, deny the Spurrier autograph was meant to secure an obligation or that it in any way influenced the approval process.

"I don't construe it to have any impact or effect," Kimbrough said. "I'm not in the business of breaking any laws."

The bank CEO, whose gift of a round of golf to Radacky's predecessor, Paul McIntosh, helped spur McIntosh's resignation in March 2002, said he was not familiar with the county's gift policy.

When pressed on the propriety of his gesture, Kimbrough said he was not accountable to anybody to answer such questions. He said it had been his "standard operating procedure" for more than 30 years to respond to the wishes of public officials when possible, and that he would continue to do so.

Neither the gift policy nor the recent McIntosh episode caused Radacky to question whether his request to Kimbrough was appropriate, the administrator said.

"Never crossed my mind," he said. "I just didn't feel it was a favor."

One sports memorabilia specialist contacted by the Times put the price of a football signed by both Wuerffel and Spurrier at between $150 and $225.

Though Radacky said he had not been involved in the zoning variance decision, two department directors paint a different picture. One said both Kimbrough and Radacky, sometimes together, met with the staff in recent weeks to discuss the project, which both directors said has some unique elements.

Western Way's owner, Atlanta-based Jupiter Realty, petitioned to have the parking requirements reduced. To do so, the company sought to introduce a new planning concept -- shared parking -- to the county.

Shared parking recognizes that lots are fuller during some parts of the day than others, and, in essence, allows a single space to be counted more than once in the planning process -- once at a morning peak, for example, and again in the evening.

The variance request, prepared by Adams Engineering Associates of Brooksville, also sought a reduction in setback requirements along SR 50, home to one of Kimbrough's parcels, and along Mariner Boulevard, home to another the CEO owns as well as to the parcel owned by the partnership for whom his son is registered agent.

Prior to Tuesday's approval, the variance request had been carried over from the two preceding County Commission meetings because of lingering concerns.

Charles Mixson, who heads the county engineer's office, said Radacky telephoned him early last week to discuss the variances, but that he was not at home to take the call Mixson said he was not too surprised, but that only in emergency situations, such as a flood, had the administrator previously called him at home.

"It's rare," Mixson said. "He would not have called unless somebody was asking him to call."

When he spoke to Radacky at work the morning after the phone call, Mixson said, the administrator told him Kimbrough and Jim Adams of Adams Engineering had expressed worry that Mixson's office was holding up the project by not providing comments on the plan.

Mixson, who said he believes the variances that were approved are justifiable, said he told Radacky the comments had been provided.

Development services director Grant Tolbert said he too received a telephone call at home last week from Radacky. In the absence of traffic or concurrency studies, Tolbert said, petitioners were seeking more than just setback and parking variances in their proposal -- something more akin to actual development approval. Three restaurants and a retail store are being considered for the four undeveloped Western Way parcels.

The development director said he had been going back and forth with petitioners over the language in the proposal to ensure that its impact remains limited to setback and parking variances.

Radacky "called and said, basically, that we needed to get it resolved," Tolbert said.

Like Mixson, Tolbert said such calls from the administrator are rare.

"He has called me at home," he said. "But not on a variance or zoning petition or anything like that."

Contacted Thursday, County Commissioners Betty Whitehouse and Nancy Robinson both said it was the first they had heard of Kimbrough's favor to Radacky. And both vowed to get to the bottom of the situation by interviewing the principals and consulting with the county's Legal Department.

"I think Mr. Radacky will have to respond to this issue and respond to the board," said Robinson, who hoped the incident would be explored at Tuesday's commission meeting.

"It is a clear violation of our policy," said Commissioner Diane Rowden, a Radacky critic. "I don't see any gray area. To me, as a county commissioner, it's embarrassing."

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