Fred Karl to help road panel

Published September 14, 2006

TAMPA - When he finished his stint as Mayor Pam Iorio's interim city attorney in 2004, Fred Karl vowed he was leaving government work for good.

Not so fast.

Now 82, Karl is part of the team of advisers hired by the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, a toll road agency rocked by allegations of improprieties.

On Monday, Expressway Authority board members voted to hire the Fowler White law firm as interim legal counsel. The firm's partner Rhea Law said she asked Karl to join her team to help the agency cooperate with the Florida Auditor General's Office as it probes the agency's finances, operations and ethics policies.

Karl referred all questions to Law, who said Expressway Authority executive director Ralph Mervine and board chairman Thomas Gibbs asked her to tap Karl on Sept. 1.

"I said 'Great,' " Law said. "I have the utmost respect for him."

This isn't the first time an agency sought Karl's guidance amid a public relations crisis.

In 1994, Karl took over as Tampa General Hospital chief executive after his predecessor resigned amid disclosures of secret dealings with Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.

Karl's career also includes stints as Hillsborough's county administrator and attorney, as Florida Supreme Court justice, state legislator, and city attorney for Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach.

In a statement he to the Authority, Karl wrote that he joined the Fowler White team to work on purging "any appearance of conflicts or procedural violations and re-establish the Authority's traditional, positive relationship with the community."

Gov. Jeb Bush's general counsel concluded an investigation last week that said no laws were broken when another law firm, Gray Robinson, won a disputed legal contract. But the report also said the agency's policies and finances needed to be scrutinized.

Law said Karl will consult, but won't offer legal advice.