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Hopeful's inaccurate flier slams opponents

Tom Finn, who is running for City Council, says the gist of his message is true and he has nothing for which to apologize.

Published April 7, 2006

NEW PORT RICHEY - City Council candidate Tom Finn has lashed out at two of his opponents with a negative flier that has at least eight factual errors, although Finn says "the feeling behind what's being said isn't wrong."

The lime green flier came out Wednesday, less than a week before the April 11 election, as a paid insert in the Suncoast News . It mixes fact and error to support two assertions: That former council member Ginny Miller, a teacher who obtained a federal loan to elevate her flood-prone house, has made an "Art of Living on the Public Dime!" and that council member Matthew McCaffery "is not a stakeholder in New Port Richey" because he does not own property and has missed meetings.

After a Times reporter told him about several inaccuracies, Finn, 50, revised the flier Thursday and planned to include it in a mailing this weekend to 1,200 residents who voted in the last two city elections. But Miller and McCaffery said the details and the substance of Finn's charges are dead wrong.

"His pulse is so far away from the community, it's like he lives in another town," McCaffery said. "This is not what the people want. They don't want bickering, slander, made-up facts and figures to make (Finn) look good ... We don't have time for this in the community. There's too much on the line, we've made too much progress."

The original flier erroneously states that Miller and her husband both work for Pasco schools (Robert Miller actually works for the Pinellas County parks department). It says Ginny Miller got a FEMA loan for her house after she was elected to City Council; in reality, she got the Small Business Administration loan in 1997 before joining the council.

Miller used the loan to elevate her home along the Pithlachascotee River, which had flooded four times in three years. Contrary to the flier's assertion that the Millers are "slowly repay[ing] our tax money," Miller said they paid off the loan a few years ago when they refinanced their mortgage.

As to Finn's suggestion that Miller is living off public dollars:

"He should come and teach," said Miller, 47, a math instructor at Gulf Middle School, with a wry chuckle. "Being a teacher is not living off the public dole, as every parent of a middle-schooler will know."

Finn acknowledged the errors were his fault, but said that didn't change the truth of the message.

"What I'm saying is very close to correct, and I apologize for the very minor discrepancies, but the gist of it remains the same and I don't have anything to apologize for that."

The flier correctly states that McCaffery, 24, does not own property. But McCaffery, a proud Marine who fought in the Iraqi war, bristled at the suggestion that he doesn't have a stake in the community.

"I did put my life on the line for every citizen of this country, my city and my community," McCaffery said. "I would challenge Mr. Finn to go to any widow or mother that has lost a son or daughter in the war and tell them their son or daughter didn't have a stake in their community. It's an absolute disgrace."

Finn said there's no substitute for being a taxpayer who is affected by council decisions.

"It's a different perspective when you're a property owner and you're directly liable for the bills that are incurred," Finn said.

Other parts of the flier were untrue. Finn said McCaffery had "skipped 10 out of 12" meetings of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a board of Pasco officials who decide how to spend transportation dollars. While McCaffery attended only two meetings during his year on the board, four others were canceled. McCaffery said he missed the other six because he was hospitalized with a series of ailments.

The flier misstated that McCaffery talks of running for president in 2020 (he's actually aiming for 2032), and mistakenly said McCaffery's vanity license plate was PRES-2020, when it was PREZ32. Finn argued McCaffery was lax in exchanging his California tags for Florida ones two years ago, "in violation of state law."

McCaffery said he broke no laws. He said he had California tags because he was still assigned to Camp Pendleton, although he had accrued enough leave to return to New Port Richey. He got Florida tags after he was discharged.

There's also a dispute about the number of city residents: The flier said 16,000; McCaffery says it's 17,500, although the Census estimate for 2004, the latest year available, is 16,675.

Finn said he decided to correct the flier because "it should be factual."

"It changes the hard black-and-white facts, but the ultimate message, I don't think, changes."

[Last modified April 7, 2006, 01:32:03]

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