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Maddox worked for developer

The ex-Democratic chairman running for governor did work on the side for a controversial project.

Published May 19, 2005

Four years ago, party leaders quadrupled the state Democratic chairman's salary to $100,000 and made the job full time.

But while Democrats across Florida scrambled to swing Florida to John Kerry on the Tuesday before Election Day, state Democratic Chairman Scott Maddox focused on something on the side: helping a client win approval for a development proposal reviled by many environmentalists.

Unbeknownst to many party activists - and many of those fighting the development - the Democratic leader had kept a side job that required his attention on the evening of Oct. 26. Leon County commissioners were set to vote on the most controversial development project the county had seen in years, and Maddox was being paid to help win approval.

"This is a very Democratic county," said Tallahassee developer Gordon Thames, who recalled paying Maddox $10,000 for his help on the Summerfield development.

"We just hired Scott as a lobbyist to help us communicate to the government. I thought maybe they'll listen to Scott and give him strong consideration - maybe more so than if it was just Gordon up there."

Maddox, who announced his candidacy for governor this week, did not register as a lobbyist on the project as Leon County requires of anyone paid to influence county government decisionmaking.

"I wasn't a lobbyist for them. I consulted with them," said Maddox, the former mayor of Tallahassee who remains one of the most prominent political figures in Leon County.

He did not recall whether he spoke to any county officials about the development, and several county commissioners did not recall speaking to Maddox about the proposal.

His involvement in the development drew strong rebukes from several Leon County environmentalists and Democratic activists.

"It's unconscionable," said former state party Chairman Bob Poe, whom Maddox replaced after the Democrats' electoral drubbing in 2002. "He accepted a full-time salary and the whole intention of that salary was that he devote full-time attention to the party and not to his own personal interests."

Other Democratic leaders, while surprised to learn about Maddox's moonlighting, said they never saw signs of Maddox giving the party short shrift.

Newly elected party chairwoman Karen Thurman said barring any outside work might limit the ability to recruit leaders. She said she continues to consult for a software company that works with veterans hospitals.

Maddox said he did "very little" work outside the party but said he would not reveal his clients without their permission and until he's required to file disclosure forms. He said he had "no idea" how many clients he has.

"I absolutely don't see any kind of story here," Maddox said. "You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought I did less than a full-time job for the Florida Democratic Party. We went from one end of the state to the other. I worked long hours, and I gave it my all."

Maddox announced his candidacy for governor Monday and faces a tough primary campaign against U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa and state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua. His work for the developer of Summerfield near Lake Jackson could provide fodder for attacks.

"Anybody that pushed for Summerfield, I wouldn't support. Summerfield is an absolute atrocity," said Becky Subrahmanyam, one of the activists fighting the project.

Many environmentalists view Lake Jackson as one of the jewels of Leon County. Once a premier bass-fishing lake, it is designated by the state as an aquatic preserve. Government agencies have spent millions trying to clean it up.

The developers wanted to increase the amount of development allowed on 107 acres near the lake from several dozen homes to 175 homes and more than 300 apartment units. Thames said it would be a low density, high-quality development and the lake would be thoroughly protected.

After a marathon public hearing Oct. 26, county commissioners approved the plan with a 4-3 vote. The project is now tied up in a lawsuit.

Maddox did not speak at the hearing, but opponents of the project say he made his support clear when he sat with developer Thames.

County Commissioner Dan Winchester, who voted against the project, noted Maddox's presence that night and recounted how as mayor, Maddox's recorded voice welcomed people arriving at the Tallahassee airport.

Maddox's recording would "talk about how we lived in an area where we believed in protecting our lakes, talked about protecting our canopy roads," Winchester said, according to a transcript of the meeting. "And here we are about to rezone a hundred-acre piece of property to trash our canopy roads and to risk trashing Lake Jackson."

Thames, a registered Republican, said he hired Maddox about 11/2 years ago to help him get approval for the project.

"I've employed Scott as a lobbyist on a couple of different matters that we've worked on," said Thames. "A lot of times when I hire someone like Scott, what I'm trying to do is get the facts of my development communicated to the politicians in a situation where there's a lot of hysteria being created."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or

[Last modified May 19, 2005, 00:59:14]

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