Candidate hit with ethics complaint
A Spring Hill man says a commission hopeful used resources from a civic organization she runs.
By ASJYLYN LODER
Published October 20, 2006
Antonio Callari said Wednesday that he's got little use for politics, and that he's just a concerned citizen trying to do his part.
The Spring Hill resident has filed an ethics complaint against Democratic County Commission candidate Rose Rocco. Callari claims Rocco used resources from a civic organization she runs to help out her campaign. Rocco denied the charge, and claimed the complaint is revenge for her criticism of her opponent, four-term Commissioner Nancy Robinson.
Callari said the complaint he filed with the Florida Elections Commission is an "inquiry," not an accusation. "I just wanted to know if what she was doing was legal," he said.
Callari noticed that Rocco listed the same phone number, address and e-mail address for both her campaign and for Operation PRIDE, a civic organization that she helped found in 2001. That should count as in-kind contributions to her campaign, he alleged. Callari filed the complaint against Rocco and her campaign treasurer, Greg K. Myers.
Her campaign Web site linked to Operation PRIDE's Web site. "This implies a connection or support between the two," Callari wrote.
Rocco said, "That's my personal phone number, and I pay for it out of my own pocket. That's my personal e-mail address, and I pay for it out of my own pocket. It's provided on Operation PRIDE as a courtesy, so people can get in touch with me."
The post office box belongs to Myers' business and is paid for by him, she said.
She noted that while her campaign Web site linked to Operation PRIDE, the nonprofit's Web site does not advertise or link back to her commission campaign. She believes that it's perfectly appropriate and legal but has removed the link temporarily until the Election Commission makes its decision.
No money or services moved between Operation PRIDE and her campaign, Rocco said.
"That she has to tell to the ethics committee, not me," Callari said. "I just felt that it didn't seem right."
The Elections Commission has five days to determine whether Callari's complaint is legally sufficient. A finding of legal sufficiency does not mean that Rocco broke the law. If the complaint is sufficient, the commission will investigate and determine if there's probable cause to believe Rocco violated the law.
The commission does not meet again until mid November, so probable cause would not be determined before the Nov. 7 election.
Rocco said she believes that Robinson or her supporters engineered the complaint.
Callari said he is not involved with county Republican politics at all. He is a registered Republican, typically voting in the general election, but not in the GOP primaries, according to voting records with the supervisor of elections.
Rocco said it's payback for her criticism of Robinson. On Oct. 2, Robinson asked Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai to have a transcript typed of Rocco's comments during a public hearing against a reduction in the property tax rate. Nicolai's staff typed Rocco's comments, and Robinson used the typescript as a campaign flier. Confronted about it on Oct. 9, Robinson said it had been a misunderstanding, and paid Nicolai's office $7.04 for the staff time.
Rocco accused Robinson of using county staff time and resources to help her campaign. Rocco made a similar accusation in 2002, filing an elections commission complaint against Robinson. Robinson had printed the County Commission office phone number on her campaign material. Robinson said it was a mistake, and the Florida Elections Commission dismissed it.
This is Rocco's third run for County Commission, the second against Robinson. Rocco lost to Robinson in 2002, when Rocco was a Republican and Robinson a Democrat. Since then, both women have changed parties.
Asjylyn Loder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352754-6127.