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Realtors say DVD violates election rule
They say the school superintendent is using it to oppose Amendment 1.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 23, 2008
LAND O'LAKES - With a week to go before election day, the West Pasco Board of Realtors filed an electioneering complaint Tuesday against Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino regarding her information campaign on Amendment 1.
The organization contends that Fiorentino's use of district e-mail to inform employees about the ramifications of the referendum, which would change the property tax system, violated the law that forbids governments from soliciting votes.
Fiorentino's response: "I haven't sent out any e-mail."
She acknowledged having the district staff create a five-minute DVD about the topic, but she considered the content neutral. Assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose wrote a cover letter with the disc, asking principals to have their staff members view it by Jan. 22 and to send any questions to the district office.
"Our goal is to provide factual, unbiased information to personnel in Pasco County schools," DuBose wrote.
Fiorentino repeated that her goal was only to inform. She did not want to tell people how to vote, she said.
"I firmly believe we have a delegation that is going to fight for education," Fiorentino said. "I just wanted to share the tax information."
Greg Armstrong, the Realtor group's president, said the information coming out of the superintendent's office clearly links passage of Amendment 1 to a decrease in education funding, which in turn could cost some people their jobs.
"She used the school e-mail to send information designed to persuade school employees to vote no or risk losing their jobs," Armstrong said.
Armstrong, who supports Amendment 1, said he disagreed with Fiorentino's interpretation of the referendum. He said the school system presentation did not include information that might persuade people to vote yes, and that his group did not have access to the same distribution system that the district has.
"I've always considered myself a supporter of Heather," Armstrong said, just minutes after filing the complaint with the Florida Elections Commission. "But in this particular instance, we have a difference of opinion that is night and day."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.