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Candidate calls rival's claims 'ridiculous'

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


INVERNESS -- County Commission candidate Josh Wooten says he doesn't know where she got it, but some of the information in a fundraising letter and campaign ad by his opponent, Millie King, is "inaccurate," he said.

The letter says Wooten would conduct county business in his private office at the used car lot he owns in Hernando. A King flier that went to absentee voters, and was reprinted in a recent newspaper ad, suggests that Wooten welcomes "young felons and even sex offenders" because of his stance on the Brown Schools.

Wooten, a Democrat, said both charges are "ridiculous."

"My phone has been ringing off the hook since 7 (Tuesday) morning," Wooten said. "I believe it backfired on her, because any thinking individual who would read that would know that is a ridiculous statement to make."

King, a Republican, defended her campaign literature and said the information came from Wooten's own mouth.

At a recent forum -- King said she did not remember which one -- Wooten allegedly told the audience that, if elected, he would still work out of his business office and meet with constituents there because it is in the center of District 5, King said.

"I would rather they came to the county offices, where they register in and there's a record of who came to visit you, rather than having a group of men in the back room deciding what you're going to do at the next commission meeting," King said. "The chances are great of something like that happening if he's not available where he should be available at."

But Wooten said he would never conduct county business outside the "Sunshine," as King suggested in her fundraising letter. The state's Sunshine Law bars elected officials from talking to each other about government issues outside public meetings.

"Maybe she doesn't understand the Sunshine Law. Citizens can walk into my office any time and have a chat with me," Wooten said. "I have an open-door policy to anybody -- I have it now, and I will continue to have it if elected. "As far as operating outside of the Sunshine, absolutely not," Wooten added.

A recent King flier states that Wooten "does not understand" why the Brown Schools is an issue for neighbors of the facility for emotionally disturbed teens. The facility houses some teens who have been accused of a crime but found incompetent to proceed to trial.

"Maybe he (Wooten) welcomes young felons and even sex offenders," the King flier states.

King said Wooten has failed to take a strong enough stand against the facility's moving into the former Heritage Hospital in Lecanto.

"If he doesn't want to speak out or listen to the concerns of the Beverly Hills people, what inference can you draw?" King said Wednesday. "That's what's going to come to that school."

But Wooten said he told a group of residents from Black Diamond, the neighboring development, that he would vote against allowing the Brown Schools to use that site, if the issue ever came before the County Commission.

That all depends on whether the homeowners succeed in their challenge to the county's decision that the Brown Schools did not need a zoning change to occupy the building, which once housed an adult psychiatric hospital.

"I would not want to set the precedent of having that land rezoned in that manner," Wooten said.

Wooten sent a letter to King asking her to stop sending the fliers and letters out and to no longer run the newspaper ad. He also challenged her to sit down with him and representatives of the Citrus Times and the Citrus County Chronicle to discuss, point by point, the charges in question.

King said Wednesday that she had not decided whether to answer Wooten's challenge.

"We have the Chronicle's forum (today) and the Monday forum with St. Pete (Times)," King said. "I don't see what the purpose is at this late date."

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