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District 3 Hillsborough County Commission

Challenger Joe Redner asks why incumbent Thomas Scott hasn't solved the district's troubles. Scott says asking questions isn't the same as having answers.

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


When nude club king Joe Redner first ran for office in 1999, his campaign focused on the city's attempts to crack down on adult businesses. He lost that race against Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn badly, and in his second bid for office, he appears to be trying to widen his appeal.

In his campaign against County Commissioner Thomas Scott, a minister, Redner has talked much less about restrictions on nude clubs. Instead, he has concentrated on discussing the district's problems: crime, education, bus service, health care and economic development.

Redner, a millionaire who also owns three Ybor City nightclubs, a fitness center in south Tampa and a film production company, said he can use his business record to help the County Commission.

"Everyone knows what the problems are," Redner said. "(Scott) has been in office for four years, and what has happened? ... No one has given me a chance. I've never been in office to see what I can do to fix things."

Redner, a Libertarian, also promised to abstain from any votes on adult business issues. He said adult businesses should be closed if they cause a nuisance to a neighborhood.

Even so, Scott, pastor of the 34th Street Church of God, has criticized Redner for his nude club business and for his inexperience. He asked voters on the campaign trail to send him back to office to keep working for the district.

"We have someone who did not serve on the board asking questions, and perhaps he doesn't even have the answers himself," Scott said about Redner.

Scott pitches himself as a commissioner who has learned the job after four years in office. He said he keeps his office open to constituents, and he has worked in different jobs as a custodian, security officer and construction worker pouring concrete sidewalks on "work days" to learn about county government. If re-elected, he promises to expand the county's health care plan to the working poor and to fix transportation problems.

Scott proved a formidable campaigner in the Democratic primary. He beat veteran state Sen. James Hargrett Jr. and community activist Betty Reed with backing from a sea of church volunteers. Scott survived two elections to win the Democratic nomination even though federal prosecutors investigated him. Scott accepted $15,000 for his church from businessman David Bekhor at the same time he was helping Bekhor set up meetings to sell medical equipment to Tampa General Hospital. Then, when Bekhor did not get the contract, former TGH president Bruce Siegel accused Scott of holding up an ordinance crucial to TGH's finances.

Scott denied any wrongdoing, and prosecutors have not charged him with a crime. Even so, he has declined to show how his church spent the $15,000. He originally denied getting any money from Bekhor until the St. Petersburg Times obtained copies of the canceled checks. After the Times disclosed the donation, Scott said his church voted to return the $15,000 to Bekhor.

In a debate, Redner attacked Scott for his troubles. "I have never taken a bribe," said Redner in a passing reference to the issue.

Redner pledged to release all his finances to any representative of an organization that wanted to look at them. "My books," he said, "are open."

THE JOB

The seven-member County Commission sets policy, oversees a $2-billion budget, runs the Environmental Protection Commission, approves local ordinances, decides all zoning issues and hires and fires the county administrator, who is responsible for the daily functioning of county government. District 3 includes Palm River, Seminole Heights and east Tampa. A map of County Commission districts appears on Page 17. The commissioner will serve a two-year term and earn a salary of $77,646.

DEMOCRAT

THOMAS SCOTT, 47, has represented District 3 on the County Commission since 1996. He is senior pastor of the 34th Street Church of God and president of King's Kids Christian Academy, a non-profit child care center. He was born in Sandersville, Ga., and in 1979 received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of North Florida. He is married and has three children. ASSETS: bank accounts, certificates of deposit, investments, loans, vehicles, real estate. LIABILITIES: loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: salaries.

LIBERTARIAN

JOE REDNER, 60, owns or co-owns three Tampa nude clubs, three Ybor City nightclubs, a Hyde Park fitness club, and a variety of other local businesses. He ran unsuccessfully for Tampa City Council in 1999. He was raised in Tampa and holds a high school equivalency diploma. He is divorced and has four children. ASSETS: nude clubs, bars, commercial and residential rental properties, loans, inventory. LIABILITIES: mortgages. SOURCE OF INCOME: nude clubs, nightclubs, bars, fitness center, film production company.

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