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Storms questions Platt's vote on land use

She wonders whether a commissioner can vote against a proposal for strictly political reasons.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


TAMPA -- County Commissioner Jan Platt is usually the one raising questions about the ethical conduct of her fellow board members.

Now one of those commissioners is borrowing a page from Platt's playbook to question her motivation in a recent vote, and using her own frank words against her.

Ronda Storms has sent a memo to the county attorney asking her to weigh in on whether a commissioner can vote against a development proposal for strictly political reasons. She has also asked whether it can expose the county to liability if she admits to doing so, and whether that commissioner faces any consequences.

The questions to County Attorney Emeline Acton are attached to a copy of a Sunday St. Petersburg Times story. In the story, Platt is paraphrased as saying she voted last week against a proposed retail development proposal in Brandon out of concerns about its owner, Sam Rashid.

Rashid is an active political campaign organizer and contributor who has supported each of the board's Republican commissioners, including Storms. Platt, a Democrat, has raised concerns about his involvement in county decisions.

"I didn't feel comfortable," Platt was quoted as saying about the vote on his building proposal, "because of the perception of his influence."

In her memo to Acton, Storms asks for clarification on the legal and ethical standards commissioners must use in making land-use decisions.

"It is my understanding that the only legal and ethical criteria board members are entitled to use in weighing a decision are those criteria which deal solely with the land use facts," Storms wrote. "I have studiously operated under the standard that I cannot ethically or legally vote on a land use matter for the sole purpose of benefiting political friends.

"If you can't do it to benefit a person, you can't do it to punish your enemies either," Storms said in a brief interview after Wednesday's commission meeting.

During that same meeting Storms joined Commissioner Tom Scott in criticizing Platt for raising questions about the conduct of other board members outside of public meetings. Her particular topic of scorn was a memo Platt wrote to County Administrator Dan Kleman questioning Scott's role in a contract award.

Platt declined to comment after the meeting.

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