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Complaint made but was misdirected

By JEFF TESTERMAN
Published August 30, 2006


TAMPA - A volunteer for the campaign of Hillsborough County Commission candidate Kevin White wants to lodge a complaint about the actions of White's opponent with a state disciplinary board - if he can find the right one.

Sunday, Joe Robinson mailed off a five-point complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics, alleging several violations by candidate Chloe Coney, who opposes White in a race for the District 3 County Commission seat.

Robinson's complaint says Coney violated the state's disclosure laws by failing to attach a W-2 form to the income tax return filed with her financial disclosure, by failing to list any interest in a financial institution and by improperly taking contributions in cash and from nonprofit religious groups.

But the Ethics Commission investigates complaints concerning elected officials or public employees. Coney, a former executive at the nonprofit Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, is neither.

Told that information by the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday, Robinson said he would let his ethics complaint stand and immediately file a second complaint with the Florida Elections Commission, the board that looks into elections violations.

Coney said the complaints are unfounded or focus on missteps by a first-time office-seeker that have now been fixed.

Coney said she did submit her W-2 form with her financial disclosure, but elections officials failed to copy it and include it in her file. Tuesday, Coney resubmitted the missing W-2, which shows she received an $8,064.57 stipend in 2005 from the New Century Mortgage Corp., where she served on the advisory board.

Robinson also complained that Coney did not divulge her interest in Washington Mutual, a $348-billion savings institution.

To be required by law to disclose any interest in Washington Mutual, Coney said, she would have to be a director, agent or owner of 5 percent of the company's stock. She fits none of those definitions, she said, and merely sat on a company advisory board.

In his ethics filing, Robinson also complained that Coney took $500 contributions from two church groups, as well as a $200 cash contribution from adult club owner Joe Redner. The IRS generally prohibits tax-exempt churches from participating in political campaigns, and state campaign rules set a $100 ceiling on cash contributions.

Coney said earlier this month the contributions were accepted because of her own ignorance of campaign finance rules. She refunded all three improper contributions.

Robinson, a civil engineer, is seeking the District 5 seat on the City Council being vacated by White. He has run for office five times previously but never won. Though a Republican, Robinson said he has been putting up signs for White, a Democrat, "because he's the best man running" for the District 3 County Commission seat.

White has his own election complaint to deal with, this one filed by Larry Schuler, a retiree who filed ethics and real estate commission complaints against Steve and Lynne LaBrake, former city officials now serving federal prison terms on bribery convictions. In his complaint. Schuler said that White violated campaign finance laws when he used $6,100 in contributions to buy imported Italian suits and other personal clothing, then reported the expense as "consulting."

White, Coney and social worker Dorothy "Nicolle" Admire will face off in next week's Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican Ken Anthony, an insurance agent, and John Michael Craig, an investor with no affiliated party, in the general election.

Jeff Testerman can be reached at 813 226-3422 or testerman@sptimes.com

[Last modified August 30, 2006, 01:23:58]


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