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By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 20, 2007
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson is still stinging over concerns Secretary of State Kurt Browning voiced to the St. Petersburg Times.
In a story Saturday, Browning expressed alarm that Johnson is not further along in switching from touch-screen to optical-scan voting machines. Hillsborough is the only county in the state that hasn't signed a contract to buy new machines, which will be used starting in August.
"I was surprised to read your comments in the St. Petersburg Times that cast serious aspersions on my efforts to switch Hillsborough County's voting system from touch screens to optical scans," Johnson wrote in a letter to Browning on Tuesday. "Those critical remarks were especially troubling since you have never voiced them to me personally."
Johnson's letter also expressed frustration that Browning hasn't returned his phone calls. Johnson said everyone should be working together, not against one another.
Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Department of State, said Browning was out of the office when Johnson first called and plans to ring him by the end of the week. Ivey reiterated that Browning had only recently learned that Johnson was planning to seek bids for new equipment. He could opt to get new machines from his current provider, which would be quicker.
Browning had planned to call Johnson but a reporter happened to ask Browning's thoughts first.
Hillsborough Administrator Pat Bean is catching flak for remarks she made two weeks ago during a meeting of the county's legislative delegation.
Delegation members were debating a bill to change the makeup of the Environmental Protection Commission, the Tampa Sports Authority and Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. A bill by Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz, would give the county greater representation on the sports and planning commissions, and put city representatives on the Environmental Protection Commission
County commissioners had previously voted 5-0 to support the bill, provided the planning commission was removed while a study was conducted on its effectiveness.
When Sens. Ronda Storms and Victor Crist objected, Ambler decided to keep the planning commission in play in case the study is completed before the bill can be heard next year. He added language, if passed, would mean the change wouldn't happen until 2009, leaving time for tweaks.
In crafting his compromise, Ambler summoned Bean to the lectern to get her thoughts. She told Ambler that commissioners had voted to support the bill without the planning commission included, but said she didn't think that county commissioners would object to the compromise proposal.
East-county environmental activist Mariella Smith has slapped Bean in the local Sticks of Fire blog. She says that either the fix was in or that Bean is being insubordinate.
County Commissioner Mark Sharpe wroteto members of the delegation, confirming the board's vote and urging them not to include the planning commission.
Bean says she didn't think she was crossing a line, given the delayed implementation time and pledge that the study will still be considered before final passage of any legislation.
"I don't think I did anything wrong, based on the circumstance," Bean said. "If I had simply said that I think the board would be fine with it, without saying anything about the position that the board had taken, that would be different."
Staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.
[Last modified December 20, 2007, 00:26:36]