A Times Editorial
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 2000
Hillsborough County voters will elect a supervisor of elections, circuit court clerk and property appraiser in the Nov. 7 general election. Though these constitutional officers have fairly narrow duties, largely dictated by state law, a candidate with little experience and poor judgment can wreak havoc on the orderly administration of county government. The following races are open to all Hillsborough voters.
Joe Robinson is imagining things to smear elections supervisor Pam Iorio as arrogant and incompetent. Iorio, a Democrat, is just the opposite -- courteous and respected across the political spectrum for her professionalism and ethics.
Iorio, 41, is a former Hillsborough County commissioner. She is personable and even-tempered, manages a competent staff and is constantly modernizing her office to benefit candidates and the public. With her deep understanding of elections law and commitment to open government, Iorio has made it easier to access campaign finance information, register to vote and obtain elections results.
Robinson is cagey on his background and the issues, unfamiliar with elections law and reckless in hurling serious, unsubstantiated charges against Iorio. He sued Iorio over her handling of city elections in Tampa last year; the case was dismissed as lacking merit. Robinson's lack of credibility is embarrassing to Republicans. His belligerent style also is unbecoming of a would-be gatekeeper of the democratic process.
Running clean and credible elections is an important responsibility. Iorio knows her job and has consistently honored the public's trust. We recommend her for another term.
The clerk's race is a sleepy campaign, but the wrong choice could mean a fiasco. The incumbent, Democrat Richard Ake, has worked his way through the office, holding the top job for 15 years. Ake knows what he's doing. His challenger, Republican Bart Siegel, promises a "much more" aggressive approach that could destabilize an important function of county government.
The clerk's job is to pay the county's bills, keep court and property records straight and provide access to public records. The ideal clerk is not a political dynamo but a gifted and ethical administrator. Ake, 60, is a dependable clerk who manages the competing demands of his office. That experience will be critical in the coming term, as the clerk's office begins to integrate a host of criminal and civil records on a shared database without disrupting everyday service to the courts and the public.
Siegel, a 42-year-old accountant, has a useful background in public auditing. But his rhetoric about rooting out fraud and waste is generic -- who favors waste? -- and he seems oblivious to larger responsibilities, such as managing court files, ensuring access to public records and accurately preserving government documents. He appears eager to use the job as a lightning rod against public spending he opposes, an activism that would politicize the auditing of county programs.
Ake should instill confidence in every attorney, spouse and property owner that records vital to their life, business and property are safe, accurate and accessible. For circuit court clerk, the Times recommends Richard Ake.
You could hear the collective sigh of relief four years ago when Republican Rob Turner swept Ron Alderman and his incompetents from office. Turner professionalized the staff, ended tax breaks for the well-connected and halted the ritual of using public jobs to reward losers from the Democratic party machine.
After all that progress, why go backward with Pat Hannon?
Hannon, 55, a supervisor for Alderman whom Turner sacked, apparently can't shake old habits. He blamed Turner for the "worst" tax roll in Florida and the "highest tax increase" in county history. There's only one problem. Neither is true. Hannon also blamed Turner for the suicide of an office employee -- an unconscionable smear the family denied. His chief fundraiser, in a campaign overture, implied Hannon would go soft on taxing property in exchange for political support.
If Hannon can't get his facts straight, why entrust him with a $53-billion tax roll?
Turner, 49, has done an outstanding job in turning around a once-corrupted office in one term. He has added hundreds of millions of dollars to the tax roll by ending unfair tax breaks to big business, made assessments fairer and instituted new procedures that raised office morale and improved services to taxpayers. Turner is a true professional who has served the public admirably, and we strongly recommend him for another term.
The Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates in the races discussed today should send in their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. (E-mail: email@example.com; Fax: 893-8675). Replies are limited to 250 words.