Pinellas appraiser won't run

Jim Smith's aide says this term will be his last.

By WILL VAN SANT and JONATHAN ABEL, Times Staff Writer
Published November 14, 2007

Politically damaged Pinellas County Property Appraiser Jim Smith will not seek a fifth term, according to his longtime top deputy, Pam Dubov.

Dubov said late Tuesday that she spoke with Smith about 4 p.m. and that he told her he would not campaign again for his seat and planned to announce the news to local television stations.

"Jim's been thinking about this for a while," Dubov said. "He needed to make a decision in his own time for his own reasons."

Smith, 67, did not return several messages from the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday night.

With local GOP leadership saying it felt no loyalty to Smith and contenders coming forward to challenge him for the first time in 15 years, the buzz in local political circles for weeks was that he would not run.

"What else could he do?" said Ben Friedlander, a Democrat who announced a week ago that he would run for property appraiser. "Mr. Smith has been in denial about the events of the summer."

In June, the County Commission voted unanimously to buy Smith's private land on Brooker Creek for $225,000, nearly four times the assessment Smith's office gave the parcel.

Smith had alleged that Pinellas work crews "devastated" the property while doing flood control work after the 2004 hurricanes. Smith complained to the county in 2005 about the alleged damage, then dropped the matter.

Before reapproaching the county about his claim earlier this year, Smith had tried for months to sell the land as a "Beautiful Custom Home Site." He was asking $400,000 but got no offers. At the time, Smith was looking for money to close on a home he was buying in Countryside.

After the St. Petersburg Times reported on the sale, a grand jury scrutinized the transaction. No one was indicted, but the grand jury harshly criticized Smith, saying his actions and those of other officials created the "clear public perception" that he had been given special treatment.

The grand jury also found no "credible, satisfactory" explanation for the delay between when Smith first complained of the alleged damage and when he demanded compensation. Nor did grand jurors understand how or why Smith determined that the great piece of land he had on the market was suddenly ruined.

Smith still faces scrutiny from the state Commission on Ethics for his role in the land deal.

In 1978, Smith was elected to the state House in 1978, where he served four years. He made an unsuccessful bid for property appraiser in 1984 and a failed run for secretary of state in 1986. He has served as property appraiser since winning the election in 1988.

Smith's term extends through 2008.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 727 445-4166.