tampabay.com

Request for money rankles resident

City Council member John Dingfelder calls a complaint against him a "hatchet job."

By JANET ZINK
Published February 10, 2007


TAMPA - J. Scott Taylor says he e-mailed his city council representative, John Dingfelder, hoping to change a city ordinance that kept his son from fishing at Marjorie Park.

He got back a sympathetic note, followed by a series of appeals for campaign contributions.

"It was outrageous," the Davis Islands resident said. "I thought maybe he'd want to talk to me in person to see what the complaint was. Wrong. He didn't want to talk to me. He just wanted me to send him money."

Dingfelder calls Taylor's public complaint a "political hatchet job," and said he has done nothing wrong.

Here's what the e-mails show:

Dec. 19: Taylor sent an e-mail to the council member's city office asking Dingfelder to meet with himself, his son and some neighbors, among them Brian Bolves, one of Dingfelder's former law partners, to discuss the matter.

Dingfelder forwarded Taylor's e-mail to his personal work computer and responded.

From: John Dingfelder

To: J. Scott Taylor

Sent: Dec. 19, 2:37 p.m.

As one who grew up here fishing from various walls, shorelines, etc. I always thought that this Ord. was rather silly. ... Thus, I would be amenable to revisiting it in some fashion. However, I would suggest waiting until after our March election as I think you would have an uphill battle right now. You may want to poll the candidates that you meet on the issue to see if they deserve your support.

One minute later, Dingfelder followed up.

From: John Dingfelder

To: J. Scott Taylor

Sent: Dec. 19, 2:38 p.m.

PS I have 2 opponents so pls tell my old friend Bolves that he and his firm should support my re-election efforts with a campaign check! ::)...mailed to the address below! :)

Taylor was incensed. "I ignored the blatant request for the campaign contribution and asked to meet," he said.

The meeting never happened.

"I thought it would be a good opportunity for my son and his friends to see the government in action," Taylor said. "And they did. The councilman ignores us, doesn't ever have the meeting and sends us another request for more money."

That request came after Dingfelder made a motion at City Council on Jan. 18 asking the staff to revise the ordinance so the kids could fish at the park. Dingfelder sent Taylor an e-mail Jan. 22 sharing the good news. Four minutes later, he sent this e-mail.

From: John Dingfelder

To: J. Scott Taylor

Sent: January 22, 4:05 p.m.

As you may know, I have 2 aggressive opponents ... and one raised $75,000 by Dec. ... I need to keep raising money to help get the word out about the March 6th election and to finance a response in case they start throwing mud.

If you or your friends) can help, please send up to $500 per person (or company).

Thanks alot!

Taylor declined to make the contribution.

From: J. Scott Taylor

To: John Dingfelder

Feb. 1:

I did not make myself clear regarding my purpose in contacting you. What I tried to get across was the idea that several of us wanted to meet with you to discuss the fishing issues. ... We wanted to bring our teenage sons and daughters along so that they could meet with their elected public official and see how government works first hand. You know, how the citizens petition their government for redress of grievances; that sort of thing. ...

I know you are busy trying to get re-elected. If you get re-elected, I will contact you again in the hope that you will have time to discuss the problem that several of us perceive as being very real.

If you do not get re-elected, then none of this will matter.

The revised ordinance went before City Council Thursday, but at the request of the city staff it was postponed until March 22 - more than two weeks after the March 6 elections.

Dingfelder defended his actions Friday, saying he did talk to Bolves, even though he didn't meet with Taylor. And he said he didn't ask for money from Taylor until after he made the motion.

"It's not quid pro quo," he said. "I did exactly what he asked. I asked the staff to draft a motion that would allow children to fish off the edge of Marjorie Park."

Dingfelder said he thought he had a "happy constituent" and asked for his support.

"Like every elected official in this country, you contact the constituents who might appreciate the hard work that you do," he said.

The e-mail revelations are a "hatchet job" by "someone who's out to get me politically," he said.

"When people have nothing substantive to run on then they resort to throwing mud and casting aspersions on people's ethics. How dare they," Dingfelder said.

But Jan Platt, a former City Council and county commission member with a reputation for setting the ethical bar in local politics, was dismayed.

"It should be referred to the state attorney. It gives the appearance of asking for money for a vote," she said.

Taylor said after the exchange with Dingfelder, he checked records to see who Dingfelder's "well-financed" opponents are.

One is hair stylist Joseph Citro. The other is a former assistant city attorney.

"By God, it's Julie Brown," Taylor said, noting she's the daughter-in-law of an old acquaintance. "I say good for her. I hope she gets elected."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.