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Moral Courage Award winner unanimous pick

But selection of a HARTline whistle-blower doesn't sit well with the ex-commissioner who created the award.

By MICHAEL VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published June 16, 2005

TAMPA - Unlike previous years, no discord or ambivalence tainted the selection of 2005's Moral Courage Award recipient, considered the highest honor the Hillsborough County Commission bestows upon residents.

John Dausman, who was fired from his job at Hillsborough Area Regional Transit shortly after reporting what he called financial irregularities there, won the honor by unanimous commission vote Wednesday.

"It seems to me that people are noticing what's happening," Dausman said after he learned he won. "I'm glad this is getting the attention it deserves."

Dausman's cause is certainly getting attention from some county commissioners, particularly Brian Blair and Ronda Storms, who have made HARTline a target of their displeasure.

Dausman, a 56-year-old Temple Crest resident who had been economic development coordinator for the county for most of the 1990s, worked as a planner at HARTline between 2001 and 2003. His job was to balance the bus agency's budget.

But he said he was fired in 2003 after discovering and reporting to HARTline supervisors that invoices for the operation of the Channelside streetcar weren't being turned in to the city of Tampa. He charged that the agency illegally spent money on the streetcar that was meant for buses, and that a maintenance contract for the streetcar wasn't properly put out for bid.

Dausman said in his award application that all his allegations have been proven correct by two audits.

He still has a lawsuit against HARTline pending in circuit court that makes these same allegations. Former Commissioner Jan Platt said it was premature for Dausman to receive the award while that case is still open.

"It's totally inappropriate," Platt said. "Until the case is resolved, I believe commissioners should just let the courts determine if there's any truth to his allegations."

Obviously, commissioners didn't think so.

"Even though what happened still isn't crystal clear, I still think he meets the criteria," said Kathy Castor.

Commissioners based their choice on a recommendation by the Citizens Advisory Committee, which they appoint.

"Dausman was head and shoulders above most of the applicants," said Anthony Arena, appointed to the committee by Commissioner Jim Norman. "When you look at what he did, you have to ask yourself, would I have the courage to do what he did? I think that's what sets him apart."

The committee voted 11-0 on May 27 to award Dausman, prompting member Gaye Townsend to proclaim: "This is the smoothest Moral Courage Award selection that's went on for years."

Two years ago, the committee couldn't decide on one candidate, so it submitted two in a contentious selection process. Last year, the county commission rejected the committee's decision not to nominate anyone and awarded it to a group of residents who opposed power pole installationin their neighborhood.

HARTline executive director Ray Miller, who arrived at the agency after Dausman left, said he didn't want to comment because of the lawsuit.

The award was created in 1992 by Platt after a bribery scandal claimed three county commissioners in the early 1980s. She wanted to recognize people who challenge government to improve the county.

So Platt was less than enthusiastic about this year's choice, which she said was made by commissioners who disagree with HARTline's spending policies.

"It's an abuse of the award," Platt said.

Dausman didn't dismiss the idea that political motivations propelled his candidacy.

"There's an element of that," he said. "But after I read the comments of the people who voted for me at the Citizens Advisory Committee, I didn't think so anymore. I didn't think their votes or comments were politically oriented."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com

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